5 Responses to Morality and Abortion

  • So logical. Why do so many people have trouble with simply thinking thoroughly.

  • Original Sin

  • Moral bankruptcy (defined as a state of being completely lacking in a particular quality or value). A person to be admonished (sinful), counseled (doubtful), and instructed (ignorant). See The Spiritual Works of Mercy.

  • Great defense of our teaching on the moral reasoning against abortion. I was about to post it until you used the word most in regard to cases in which abortion would be morally wrong. I know that a number of observers of the posting would feel that vindicates their notion that there are at least some morally acceptable cases, and they could choose when it is deemed morally acceptable. Maybe I am too much of a hardliner.

The Left and Morality

Tuesday, July 30, AD 2013



Dennis Prager has an intriguing post about the interaction among liberals of morality as a laundry list of public political positions combined with wretched personal behavior:

I first thought about this when I saw how the left-wing students at my graduate school, Columbia University, behaved. Aside from their closing down classes, taking over office buildings, and ransacking professors’ offices, I saw the way in which many of them conducted themselves in their personal lives. Most of them had little sense of personal decency, and lived lives of narcissistic hedonism. Women who were involved with leftist groups have told of how poorly they were treated. And one suspects that they would have been treated far better by conservative, let alone religious, men on campus.

My sense was that the radicals’ commitment to “humanity,” to “peace,” and to “love” gave them license to feel good about themselves without having to lead a good life. Their vocal opposition to war and to racism provided them with all the moral self-esteem they wanted.

Consider the example of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. He had been expelled from college for paying someone to take his exams. His role in the death of a woman with whom he spent an evening would have sent almost anyone without his family name to prison — or would have at least resulted in prosecution for negligent homicide. And he spent decades using so many women in so public a way that stories about his sex life were routinely told in Washington. Read the 9,000-word 1990 article in GQ by Michael Kelly, who a few years later became the editor of the New Republic.

When this unimpressive man started espousing liberal positions, speaking passionately about the downtrodden in society, it recalled the unimpressive students who marched on behalf of civil rights, peace and love.

It is quite likely that Ted Kennedy came to believe in the positions that he took. But I also suspect that he found espousing those positions invaluable to his self-image and to his public image: “Look at what a moral man I am after all.” And liberal positions were all that mattered to the left and to the liberal media that largely ignored such lecherous behavior as the “waitress sandwich” he made in a Washington, D.C. restaurant with another prominent liberal, former Senator Chris Dodd.

In addition to knowing that liberal positions provide moral cover for immoral personal behavior, liberals know that their immoral behavior will be given more of pass than exactly the same behavior would if done by a conservative.

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21 Responses to The Left and Morality

  • I fear that there’s a strain of libertarianism that wants the same license, for the same reason. It hasn’t entered the political sphere yet – actually, I was going to say that, but how did Packwood hang on for so long? And wasn’t Schwarzenegger given a pass for a lot of things? Not that they were ideologically libertarian, but they were socially liberal and perceived as fiscally more conservative.

  • Religion and its moral guidelines, Ten in number plus a Book, give those, who progress from cheating, lying, and stealing during school years to supporting death of innocents and degradation of human life, an excuse to find fault with and scoff at others trying to follow what is good, not bad.

  • Pinky, that’s not libertarian. That’s libertine, and it’s the common thread they have with liberals. It’s why you haven’t seen it in ideological fom yet – it’s a personal trait. True libertarians know that liberty depends upon a moral, educated population that zealously guards its heritage. The left has little use for any of those.

  • “but how did Packwood hang on for so long?”

    Packwood was a pro-abort and got the same pass that Kennedy did until the very end of his career. Packwood had sponsored a bill in the Senate to legalize abortion two years prior to Roe. He was a pro-abort pioneer. By the time the scandals broke that ended his career the Democrat party was well on its way to becoming the party of abortion and Packwood was no longer needed by the pro-aborts.


    Schwarzenegger always had scandals dogging him. He was bullet proof due to his Kennedy connection and because he was a pro-abort. Once Maria got fed up with him it was time for Arnold to go and not to come back.

  • Schwarzenegger always had scandals dogging him. He was bullet proof due to his Kennedy connection and because he was a pro-abort.

    Arnold did, however, invest a lot of political capital backing a parental consent ballot initiative that, unfortunately, failed rather miserably. After that, he basically hid under his desk for the remainder of his time in office.

  • The only moral liberal I ever saw was dead.

  • Remember Arthur C. Brooks’ Syracuse University study from back in ’07? He
    compared the charitable giving of conservatives and liberals. While self-
    described liberal households reported an average of 6% more in annual income,
    the self-described conservative households claimed 30% more in charitable
    giving in their tax returns.

    The tax returns of some of our liberal elites are less than edifying. In the entire
    10 years combined before he became Vice President, Joe Biden and his wife
    gave a total of $3,690. To put that in perspective, that’s about 1/10th of the
    average charitable contributions of families in their tax bracket.

    In 1995, John Kerry– probably the richest man in the Senate today– reported
    $0 in charitable contributions. In ’93, he gave $175. In ’93 I was a broke
    college student and I still managed to give more than that!

    A comparison of the reported charitable contributions of the Obamas v. George
    W. Bush is also interesting. The Bushes have consistently reported charitable
    contributions of about 10%+ of their annual income. In the years 2000-2008,
    the Obamas averaged about 3.5%, on a combined annual income that was
    about 2 to 3 times more than Bush’s. In the years since becoming president,
    Obama has beefed up his contributions to slightly less than 6% of his annual
    reported income.

  • Ach. Just recalled that John Kerry is now our Secretary of State. Still, he’s
    a piker.

  • I think a better description of Packwood would be ‘capitol hill careerist’, and was known for warm relations with the folks from Gucci gulch. The sad business was, by the close of his time in Congress he had ruined his marriage (telling his wife he wanted a divorce on the birthday of one of his children), had only faint ties to people in Oregon (his voting address was a trailer on his uncle’s property, which I suppose improves on Richard Lugar’s voting address), and went into the lobbying business after leaving the Senate just ahead of the heave-ho posse.

  • Hegel, who is usually tediously wrong, has rare flashes of pure genius, and none better than his description of the Politics of Virtue:

    “Virtue is here a simple abstract principle and distinguishes the citizens into two classes only—those who are favourably disposed and those who are not. But disposition can only be recognized and judged of by disposition. Suspicion therefore is in the ascendant; but virtue, as soon as it becomes liable to suspicion, is already condemned . . . . Robespierre set up the principle of virtue as supreme, and it may be said that with this man virtue was an earnest matter. Virtue and Terror are the order of the day; for Subjective Virtue, whose sway is based on disposition only, brings with it the most fearful tyranny. It exercises its power without legal formalities, and the punishment it inflicts is equally simple—Death.”

    Thus, Robespierre, in a speech that reads like self-parody, “One wants [on veut] to make you fear abuses of power, of the national power you have exercised…One wants to make us fear that the people will fall victim to the Committees … One fears that the prisoners are being oppressed… I say that anyone who trembles at this moment is guilty; for innocence never fears public scrutiny.”

    What guarantee does the man of virtue, the republican citizen, have that he is really acting for the public good? What are the guarantees against self-delusion and hypocrisy? The only standard that the man of virtue can provide of his own moral goodness turned out ultimately to be his own self-certainty or sincerity.

  • PJ O’Rourke summed up the Kennedys with devastating accuracy:

    “Old Joseph P Kennedy was a liar and a greedy thief, an ignoramus, adulterer, vile anti-Semite, coward and pompous ass. His wife Rose was a frigid martinet, unashamed to suckle at the teat of shabby lucre, awash in pietism and tartuffery, filled with the letter of Catholicism and empty of its spirit. They raised their nine whelps in an atmosphere of brutal pride and stupid competition. When the hapless Rosemary turned out to be retarded they had her lobotomized and parked her with the nuns. The remaining eight turned out to be foolhardy, arrogant, unprincipled, and wholly lacking in sense of consequences. This last trait caused Joe Jr and Kathleen to die in airplane crashes and allowed Jack to get his PT boat T-boned by a Japanese destroyer. (A tale of heroism was manufactured from that incident. The family wasn’t so lucky with Teddy’s Chappaquiddick skin-diving efforts three decades later).

    The Kennedys, however, continued to wax. Elections, individuals and press adulation were purchased. One family member rose , briefly, to great political power and almost unlimited sexual excess. Some others nearly achieved the same results. Two were shot but under the most romantic circumstances and not, as might have been hoped, after due process of law.”

  • O’Rourke is generally engaging and insightful. In the interests of precision:

    1. Retrospective assessments of Rosemary Kennedy indicate her demonstrated skills in arithmetic were consistent with someone of subpar intelligence, not mental defect. Joseph Kennedy submitted her to the quackish care of Dr. Walter Freeman’s novel psychosurgery because of her erratic and temperamental behavior.

    2. As far as I am aware, no one in the Shriver clan (other than son-in-law Ahnold) has been implicated in any scandals. Patricia Lawford separated herself from her disspated husband in 1966, but I do not think she has ever been implicated in anything notably gross. Jean Smith’s son is repellant (and her late husband supposedly a flunky), but I do not think she has ever been implicated in anything either.

    3. About half of Robert Kennedy’s children have been scandalous, and one each of the Lawford, Smith, and Ted Kennedy broods. That would be 8 out of the 28 grandchildren have been the source of considerable embarrassment. Sad to say, that might be about average for families in this country.

  • I do not know whether Bobbie and Jack (a high-level US civilain official gave the OK) approved murders of the Diem brothers in Saigon. We know both met similar demises.

    And that propaganda regarding PT 109 . . . The worst calamity a naval officer can incur is to lose his ship: even in glorious action. Jack got his scow run over . . . Providentially, the Scotch went down with the boat . . .

  • I’m inclined to cut anyone slack in matters of psychiatry (and quackery) that took place a while ago. It’s an emerging field. Surgery 100 years ago, talking therapy 30 years ago, massive doses of chemicals today…I wonder how embarrassed by our current approach people will be in 50 years? (Of course, as Catholics, we understand the moral dimension of behaviour in a way that the secular field of psychiatry can’t, but that’s just an aside.)

  • The heydey of pscyhosurgery was during the period between 1935 and 1955, not a century ago. It was unusual after the introduction of psychotropics in 1955 and I think may have disappeared entirely by about 1980. Walter Freeman completed his residency around about 1924 and he was a working psychiatrist for about a decade before he developed the lobotomy. There was not much in the way of controlled studies at that time and medical journals were filled with case reports (a phenomenon which aided the dissemination of largely useless talk therapies as well). By some accounts, professional courtesy at the time prevented one physician or surgeon from criticizing another bar behind closed doors, so Freeman was not receiving the resistance he should have. I am not sure why he was not chewed to pieces by personal injury lawyers.

  • Watching the video again of Ted Kennedy after Chappaquiddick, I wonder if it would have been less damaging had he told the truth, namely that he and Kopechne had left the party intending to park up and have sex, but on being spotted by an off-duty policeman he had panicked and told her to drive back alone, the only explanation that seems remotely plausible. He would not have had to perjure himself and two others, would not have faced criminal charges (which could have included manslaughter), and would have saved himself a lot of money in bribes and legal fees (not that money was in short supply). I hope he was able to make a full confession before he died.

  • “Watching the video again of Ted Kennedy after Chappaquiddick, I wonder if it would have been less damaging had he told the truth”

    He would still have had to have explained why he did not report the accident until the next morning. The reason he did not, I assume, is because he was worried about the impact on his career. That mattered far, far more than Kopechne’s life. Afterwards he would tell Chappaquiddick jokes:


    Ted Kennedy wasn’t worthy to be spat upon.

  • The position of Mary Jo Kopechne’s body in the car makes it unlikely she would have been in the passenger seat. The diver (who took only ten minutes to retrieve the body) also said she died from suffocation, not drowning as she found an air bubble which kept her alive for up to four hours. Kennedy would have gone back to the party assuming that she had driven back to the motel, and did not report the accident because he was unaware it had happened.

    Kennedy’s lawyers managed to get the inquest held in camera and (astoundingly) there was no autopsy.

  • “Kennedy would have gone back to the party assuming that she had driven back to the motel, and did not report the accident because he was unaware it had happened.”

    Which makes absolutely no sense. It would have been better then for him to simply tell what happened. People were going, and did, to suspect an affair no matter what happened. His making up a story about trying to rescue her and then mysteriously not telling the authorities about it until morning makes absolutely no sense unless that part of the story was true. It would make him look worse than he was if your theory was correct to make up his driving off the bridge and what followed.

    There was an attempt to exhume Kopechne’s body for examination but her parents successfully opposed the request.

  • On tax statement charity claims– just because something isn’t claimed doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

    I don’t think it’s PROBABLE that all these politicians are hiding their charity, but it’s possible. I’m rather glad that our income is low enough we take the default deduction….

  • Don, it all comes back to O’Rourke’s point about the Kennedys being “wholly lacking in sense of consequences”. Once you start constructing an edifice of lies, you’ve got to stick with it, even if coming clean might be less damaging. The argument that “it’s so implausible, it must be true” can be made to work in your favour. The fact that Mary Jo left her purse and room keys behind would lead any reasonable person to infer that she intended to return to the party after having had sex with Teddy in the Oldsmobile. With the Kennedys it would only have lasted five minutes at most.

    Bill Clinton would have nonchalantly admitted to it and taken the consequences, but the moral climate in 1969 was different.

Hypocritical Prudes

Monday, April 22, AD 2013



Horace Walpole once famously observed that the world is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel.  The times in which we live certainly gives support to the sometime accuracy of that maxim.  My favorite living historian, Victor Davis Hanson, helps buttress the point:

What explains these contradictions in our wide-open but prudish society? Decades after the rise of feminism, popular culture still seems confused by it. If women should be able to approach sexuality like men, does it follow that commentary about sex should follow the same gender-neutral rules? Yet wearing provocative or inappropriate clothing is often considered less offensive than remarking upon it. Calling a near-nude Madonna onstage a “hussy” or “tart” would be considered crude in a way that her mock crucifixion and simulated sex acts are not.

Criminal sexual activity is sometimes not as professionally injurious as politically incorrect thoughts about sex and gender. Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer — found to have hired prostitutes on a number of occasions during his time in office — was given a CNN news show despite the scandal. But when former Miss California Carrie Prejean was asked in the Miss USA pageant whether she endorsed gay marriage, she said no — and thereby earned nearly as much popular condemnation for her candid defense of traditional marriage as Spitzer had for his purchased affairs.

Critics were outraged that talk-show host Rush Limbaugh grossly insulted birth-control activist Sandra Fluke. Amid the attention, Fluke was canonized for her position that federal health-care plans should pay for the contraceptive costs of all women. Yet in comparison to Fluke’s well-publicized victimhood, there has been a veritable news blackout for the trial of the macabre Dr. Kermit Gosnell, charged with killing and mutilating in gruesome fashion seven babies during a long career of conducting sometimes illegal late-term abortions. Had Gosnell’s aborted victims been canines instead of humans — compare the minimal coverage of the Gosnell trial with the widespread media condemnation of dog-killing quarterback Michael Vick — perhaps the doctor’s mayhem likewise would have been front-page news outside of Philadelphia.

Modern society also resorts to empty, symbolic moral action when it cannot deal with real problems. So-called assault weapons account for less than 1 percent of gun deaths in America. But the country whips itself into a frenzy to ban them, apparently to prove that at least it can do something, instead of wading into polarized racial and class controversies by going after illegal urban handguns, the real source of the nation’s high gun-related body count.

Not since the late-19th-century juxtaposition of the Wild West with the Victorian East has popular morality been so unbridled and yet so uptight. In short, we have become a nation of promiscuous prudes.

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30 Responses to Hypocritical Prudes

  • The fact is that private insurance companies deem it less expensive to pay for contraceptive coverage than pay for increased abortions and births. Are we now going to allow religious institutions to decide what is covered and what is not? People who complain about government telling private health insurance companies (Sandra Fluke’s coverage was private, not government paid) now want the government to tell private insurance companies what they should cover. Is there any modicum of consistency here?

    What’s telling is that for many Christians these days morality is only about sins you commit with no pants on. One never hears this outrage about the fact that 10’s of millions of Americans have no health coverage.

  • “What’s telling is that for many Christians these days morality is only about sins you commit with no pants on.”

    No Michael the term of art for those who believe that morality does not apply to sex is “pelvic morality”. In that rubric they include the slaying of innocent kids in abortion.

    You seem to long for Big Government to take care of everything, including requiring others to pay for Sandra Fluke’s contraceptives. That is not only immoral, but foolish to the nth degree. Government can’t do it, something that should be obvious to anyone as the welfare states grumble before our eyes. When Government attempts to it usually destroys the character of those it attempts to reduce to the status of children, dependent upon the government for everything. A good life as a government serf is an illusion.

  • I work a BS in-between job and I get health insurance. Where is this alternate dimension where good folks with plenty of skills and responsibility do not get the same simply because of greedy crony capitalists? If only Big Daddy Government galloped in and saved the day for us!

    No, some people just suck at life and no matter what wealth redistribution scheme someone comes up with, life will never be equal, or fair or anything of the sort.

  • Donald – My argument was the converse of big government taking care of everything. Sandra Fluke’s coverage was not through government. It was through a private insurance company that would rather cover contraception than pay for extra abortions and births and you want government to tell private companies what to do.

    If you were making the point about Medicare or Medicaid you would have a point but this is private health coverage paid for by the students withe their premiums.

  • Michael, an aspect of the ‘Affordable Care Act’ was a legal definition of template plans which required the inclusion of contraception.

    And you are forgetting the stupidity incorporated into all of this. The point of insurance is ‘risk-pooling’, which is to say replacing unpredictable demands on household resources through regular and predictable payments (assessed according to actuarial models) so that one’s expenses are amortized over time by distributing risk over a collectivity. Regular and discretionary expenses for Trojans do not constitute and assumed ‘risk’. Contemporary plans for medical insurance’ are nothing of the sort. They are rococo schemes for contracting for pre-paid medical services. (It is doubtful the President has any conception of the difference). Let that insufferable Ivy-League t**t shell out for the 28 boxes of condoms she is using every month and not socialize the cost over her co-workers and her employer’s shareholders.

  • “Sandra Fluke’s coverage was not through government. It was through a private insurance company that would rather cover contraception than pay for extra abortions and births and you want government to tell private companies what to do.”

    Actually her testimony was in support of the HHS Mandate that would force all employers to provide “free” contraceptive insurance coverage for all employees. There is no meaningful distinction between the government providing a benefit and the government requiring a third party to provide a benefit gratis.

  • Art Deco – Besides your contempt for Ms Fluke and possibly women, or at least educated women in general, I assume then you would not cover pregnancy as normal healthy is a choice and not a risk.

    It’s a good job you’re not a Christian as your attitude and language is deplorable.

  • Donald – Actually the private insurance companies want to cover that cost as it’s cheaper than the alternative. The only other alternative would be to also say the private companies do not have to provide abortion and birth coverage.

  • Then the issurance companies can work that out with purchasers of their product, sans government intervention. The insurance policy I purchase for my family has always covered pregnancy and never covered contraception as a result of the choices I made when I purchased the coverage. Sandra Fluke was not testifying for liberty of contract, but rather for State intervention to compel all employers to be forced to provide such coverage free of charge in any insurance policies they purchased.

  • “It’s a good job you’re not a Christian as your attitude and language is deplorable.”

    MIchael, you are new here so I am going to cut you some slack in this instance. Nothing gets someone banned faster on this site than calling someone else not a Christian.

  • Donald – Well I assumed any one who described a women as ” insufferable Ivy-League t**t ” would not want to admit to being a Christian. Cut me all the slack or not you want because I am an atheist and would not want to sink to your moral level.

    I’m out of here. In the mean time if you’re Catholic (as I once was) go to confession.

  • And there goes Michael proving VDH’s point. It’s ok to be a tart, it’s just not ok to call someone that.

    Stunning catechesis you received there, btw.

  • Former Catholics make the bitterest atheists Michael. Considering your apostacy your fulmination against Art Deco’s Christianity is the stuff of comedy.

  • Mr. McClarey, thank you for your succinct description of what Ms. Fluke and
    her ilk are actually demanding. For all Michael’s sound and fury, he did not
    address those points. He reminded me of an octopus, which when threatened
    will create a distraction with its ink rather than engage.

    I also appreciate your point about the perpetual twists and turns in what passes
    for PC. When I think back over my years in college, I recall constant shifts in
    what was deemed acceptable. I think the eternally moving goalposts of PC
    exist for two main reasons: firstly, to provide a PC enforcer with a cheap frisson
    of moral superiority (“I can’t believe you call that group ‘____s’. Everyone knows
    we say ‘____s’ now. I’m deeply offended”). Second, constant shifting of the PC
    newspeak distinguishes fellow-travelers from the great unwashed. Who else
    but a true believer can flawlessly navigate the Byzantine ways of PC? It’s like
    some of the more labyrinthine etiquette of the Victorian upper class, existing
    mainly to distinguish those that ‘belong’ from the non-U.

    Speaking of Victorians, it’s interesting that in those days, death was freely
    discussed. One had one’s dead photographed, and wore locks of their hair in
    mourning jewelry. Such customs would be deeply taboo today, and might
    invite unwelcome attention from mental health professionals. Yet in those
    days, anything remotely to do with sex was shrouded in euphemism in ‘polite
    company’– sort of a PC of its day. As Ms. Fluke could tell you, that particular
    set of PC goalposts has been moved to the opposite end of the field.
    The prudery and the hypocrisy remain.

  • The real stumper in Michael’s comment was this:

    “What’s telling is that for many Christians these days morality is only about sins you commit with no pants on. One never hears this outrage about the fact that 10′s of millions of Americans have no health coverage.”

    Catholicism invented health care. Catholicism has done more practical work in the life-saving arts than any institution since the beginning of time. Ditto education. Ditto care for the poor. Catholicism is also unmatched in its care for the human spirit, denouncing every kind of sin, including those that are most popular in any particular culture.

    J. Christian is right that Michael does prove VDH’s point. In our society, there are no sins that can be committed with your pants off, only with a suit and tie on.

  • Art Deco – Besides your contempt for Ms Fluke and possibly women, or at least educated women in general, I assume then you would not cover pregnancy as normal healthy is a choice and not a risk. It’s a good job you’re not a Christian as your attitude and language is deplorable.

    I put the Comstockian asterisks in because some people (e.g. the proprietors of the Fellowship of St. James’ fora) object to plain language. If Sandra Fluke wishes to be referred to by some other term, she can order her life differently and pick a different set of causes. She is most notable for the following:

    1. Using the considerable discretion she had in such matters (acquired how I do not know) to choose, at the age of 28, to attend law school at an expensive private institution.

    2. Choosing to attend a residually Catholic school to have a forum and gain legal standing to harass the school’s administration into abandoning one of the components of its residual Catholicism.

    3. Making a public spectacle of herself (in cahoots with elements within the Democratic congressional caucus) at a legislative pseudo-hearing arguing that employers should be coerced into purchasing insurance which covers discretionary expenditures on products vended at pharmacies. The products in question provide a facility for her own decadence and that of others (My old pharmacy sells Heath bars, which I fancy, but which are usually not covered by insurance plans).

    4. Telling cock-and-bull stories of women in her social circle spending on the order of $250 a month on contraceptives. If they do, they are running a Mayflower Madam enterprise. Sidney Biddle Barrows had an appealing sense of humor. Not so “Ms.” Fluke or her public defenders.

    The context of this is Sandra Fluke’s own life. Lot’s of people have personal shortcomings, personal failures, and problems in living, including me. She attended Cornell University, not a school which undercharges its clientele, and spent a third of her time taking courses for a degree in ‘Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies’. She also apparently earned a degree in a program which requires considerable study of statistics, though she never used that degree. It is not clear what she did for a living for six years, but she appears to have been employed by some advocacy group at one point and at a philanthropic agency that ran women’s shelters. That can be decent and thankless and commendable employment, but (I would refer you here to the writings of Stephen Baskerville and Glenn Sacks) those agencies are also shot-through with malicious ideologues (e.g. the sort of people who fritter away their time taking courses in ‘gender studies’). Past 30, she is employed as a college student, has no domestic life bar a ‘boyfriend’ who evidently had the means to send her on a European vacation during the whole controversy, and appears to have eschewed the sort of temporary office work that law students take to begin to learn their trade.

    Everything about this women suggests she has more intelligence than she knows how to put to good use, has devoted her life to activities predicated on a false and deeply jaundiced view of human relations, and desires (for reasons obscure) to punish cultural adversaries. Not to pleasant, and a fitting object for a certain amount of ridicule.

    Equal respect is the abolition of respect. If Sandra Fluke wanted respect from me, she would have lived her life quite differently and be quite differently disposed to others. I have no clue what Sandra Fluke’s activities and blunt commentary therupon have to do with any assessment I might have of the genus ‘women’ or ‘educated women in general’. Evidently, the way your head works, caustic remarks about Fluke mean I despise my grandmother, who certainly counted as an educated woman. There a a mess of people in this world (e.g. the Mary Winkler jury) who cannot abide someone on the distaff side ever being held responsible for anything or subject to plain assessments of their dispositions and conduct. I do not respect that either, coming from you or anyone else.

    Pregnancy is to be expected in the course of conjugal life. Its timing is not predictable and neither are medical complications therein. Paying for a hospital and obstetrician’s services on unpredictable intervals is not analogous to coughing up $14.50 each month so you can go on banging your boyfriend without messy complications.

    Actually the private insurance companies want to cover that cost as it’s cheaper than the alternative.

    Rubbish. No sort of coverage mandate is in the commercial interest of an insurance company unless it prevents a competitor from gaining an advantage. That aside, insurers do not lose from coverage of procedures. They lose from coverage of procedures of a frequency and character not anticipated by their models (and incorporated into their charges) or for which they could not make antecedent adjustments due to regulatory considerations. You expect us to believe that an increase in the frequency of pregnancy (within a given actuarial pool) attributable to the failure to subsidize a $14.50 a month purchase is going to generate unexpected costs to the insurer. (Which they somehow anticipate, accounting for their inclusion of the pills).

  • Donald – Well I assumed any one who described a women as ” insufferable Ivy-League t**t ” would not want to admit to being a Christian. Cut me all the slack or not you want because I am an atheist and would not want to sink to your moral level.

    A personal note: my ‘moral level’, good, bad, or indifferent, is not something about which you know squat.

  • Art, I don’t know about anyone else, but I consider the word t**t to be outside the realm of decency. Michael’s wrong about a lot of things, but I can’t fault him on that.

  • Art, I don’t know about anyone else, but I consider the word t**t to be outside the realm of decency. Michael’s wrong about a lot of things, but I can’t fault him on that.

    And you have both confused being virtuous with being dainty.

  • Well, it appears the troll succeeded in hijacking this thread. All future comments should deal with the substance of the post please.

  • “Not since the late-19th-century juxtaposition of the Wild West with the Victorian East has popular morality been so unbridled and yet so uptight.”

    The area in which I see that contrast most starkly nowadays is with regard to laws/regulations regarding food and tobacco. Certain members of the liberal intelligentsia who would never presume to criticize or condemn women (or men, particularly gay men) for their sexual behavior and who demand that they be allowed (at public expense) to indulge their every appetite in this area without consequence, seem to have no problem whatsoever with condemning smokers and overweight people and demanding that something MUST be done about THEIR appetites because they “harm others” and “drive up the cost of healthcare for everyone.” Yes, smoking and overeating are bad habits with potentially serious health consequences. Anymore, however, it seems (at least based on comments people make on news stories online) that taking up more than one seat on an airplane due to one’s weight is a far greater sin than adultery; and some who would never apply the word “hussy” or “tart” to a promiscuous woman have no qualms about calling an overweight woman a “cow”.

  • Not to mention the fact that some people who want schools to ban soda and candy vending machines, teach healthier food choices, expand physical education and hammer home strong anti-smoking and anti-drug messages (all of which are, IMO, good things) will at the same time insist that teaching sexual abstinence “doesn’t work”.

  • Elaine,

    You’ve hit the nail on the head!

  • Great point Elaine. I made a similar observation in my last Catholic Stand post. http://catholicstand.com/theres-an-app-for-that/

  • Don – Please pull this comment if you wish. I’m not trying to stir up trouble. In fact, I’m trying to resolve it.

    Art, what does “t**t” stand for? In my mind, and maybe in Michaels, it means “twat”. Looking over this thread, I’m wondering if you used it to mean “tart”. If I’m wrong about this, or if I’m reigniting a closed debate, I’m sorry. I’m just hoping that this all has been a misunderstanding.

  • “My favorite living historian, David Victor Hanson…”

    I’m partial to Victor Davis Hanson myself.

  • Corrected, and considering that I own and have read every book he has written I am astonished that I made that error.

  • You can fill in the blanks however you care to. ‘Twit’ works just as well.

    This women spent twenty years of her life in the Pennsylvania countryside about a half hour from a small city, Altoona. Then she spends three years or so in Upstate New York. Then she spends a half-dozen years in or around New York City. At the age of 28 and considering law school, you think she might select a practical option, which is to say one of the five public law schools you can find in New York and Pennsylvania, one of them an hour and twenty minute drive from where she grew up and one of them a train ride out to Queens. If she insists on cachet, there are quite a mess of private law schools proximate to her residence in 2008, including one at Columbia University, one at New York University, and, if these reject her, one at Fordham University (a residually Catholic school to boot). She could also move back Upstate and enroll at her old alma mater, Cornell. These schools have roughly similar admissions standards to the place she did select. While studying law, she could find a summer clerk’s position helping a working lawyer with his daily tasks. What does this 28 year old amateur social worker do? She pulls up stakes and moves to a high rent district where she is a stranger in order to enroll at a school for the added purpose of giving its administration a hard time for not coughing up $14.50 a month for rutting women among its student body (and spends her summers working for the Center for Women’s blah blah blah). Referring to her naughty bits is off center, but the list of insults one could legitimately lob at such a person is as long as your arm (starting with ‘officious jack-wagon’ and ‘fanatic’).

The Eternal Issue: Batman vs. Spider-Man

Sunday, December 23, AD 2012



Ah, TAC tackles only the big burning issues of our day!  Travis D. Smith over at The Weekly Standard raises a philosophical question that has always intrigued me:  who is the greater hero, Batman or Spider-Man?

Reservations  about technology are at the heart of Spider-Man’s story. Peter Parker  gains the proportional strength and agility of a spider when a high-tech  experiment goes awry. His webshooters and spider-tracers are products  of his own ingenuity. His rogue’s gallery, by contrast, comprises a  testament to the dangers inherent in modern technological science given  the myriad ways it can be misused and lead to unintended consequences.  With few exceptions, Spidey’s foes can be categorized as either (i) good  guys who were transformed into villains (or ordinary thugs who were  made much worse) by technological mishaps or unexpected side-effects  (e.g., Doctor Octopus, Electro, Green Goblin, Lizard, Morbius, and  Sandman; Venom, too, indirectly), or (ii) crooks who specifically  invented, obtained, or otherwise employ technology for the sake of doing  wrong or becoming worse (e.g., Beetle, Chameleon, Hobgoblin, Jackal,  Mysterio, Rhino, Scorpion, Shocker, and Vulture; Kraven is the  noteworthy exception). The young Peter Parker is corrupted by the  culture around him no less than any other young man. His first instinct  is to use his newfound powers in a selfish, though harmless, manner: He  plans to make it big in showbiz for the sake of supporting his family.  But after he internalizes Uncle Ben’s message, Spider-Man stands out as a  marvel precisely because he is both the victim of science gone wrong  and a manufacturer of technological wonders, yet neither makes a monster  of him—if we set aside that brief period he had six arms.

Modern  society, marked, if not defined, by our devotion to technological  science and premised principally on theories of rights, explicitly  rejects classical ideas that emphasize virtuous character and duties  that transcend individual will. Assessing all relationships in terms of  power, defending subjective rights as absolutes, and replacing  interpersonal duties with collective responsibilities, preferring the  indirect benefactions of impersonal institutionalized mechanisms,  modernity is a breeding ground for tyrannical souls and a recipe for  tyrannical regimes. It is in this light that Spider-Man can help us to  see that modernity’s capacity to turn out relatively well depends on  habits and ideas that precede it.

When  I teach introductory classes in political theory, I am grateful for the  example that Spider-Man provides of Glaucon’s model of “the man of  perfect justice” from Book II of The Republic, one who always  does the right thing (in terms of complying with conventional morality)  even though he always earns a reputation for doing the wrong thing.  Nobody who would wield great power intending to work on behalf of  justice can avoid earning a bad reputation. Spider-Man is sure to be  accused of being an accomplice in any bank robbery he thwarts. The  headlines of the Daily Bugle regularly prompt readers to ask  themselves whether he is a “Threat or Menace?” Nevertheless, Peter  chooses to keep up the good fight. The language of “choice,” however,  falls short here. Whereas Bruce decides to become a costumed agent of  vengeance, acting on an internal compulsion, Peter regards what he does  not so much as a choice but as a responsibility, a duty he must meet  irrespective of his preferences and desires. This accords with the  classical notion that virtue is demanded of us by our very nature; it is  not something that anyone can opt in or out of indifferently.

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16 Responses to The Eternal Issue: Batman vs. Spider-Man

  • I grew up with marvel comic books, but determining the greatest of imaginary creatures is not an eternal issue for me. Forgive me for being such a spoilsport. Only the shadow really knows.

  • “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows…”

  • Batman.

    What else needs be said?

  • The Super Heroes are all personifications of the virtues, of Justice. The evildoers are all personifications of vice.

  • My oldest son is less than one month from being five years old. His favorite shows are Superman and Batman, both done by the same people, from the early and mid 1990s. Hub shows them nearly every day. These cartoons were not developed solely for children and often have some mature subject matters.

    Cars, trucks, trains and superheroes are usually fascinating to little boys. They were for me and they are for my son. I remember the Filmation Superman and Batman cartoons from the 1960s as well as the Spiderman cartoon. They used to be shown in the afternoon hours after school.

    I once heard it said from a radio DJ that he preferred Batman to Superman because Batman was more believable. Almost nobody in the Batman world had superpowers.

    Spiderman has a superpower and finds himself with an obligation to use it no matter his personal struggles. Batman uses his vast resources to fight his enemies.

    Which one prefers depends on one’s own tastes.

  • I always liked Superman partly because he was a down to earth midwestern farm boy at heart. DC has in the recent decades played up the “Last Son of Krypton” in regard to Superman, but there was always more of Kansas than of Krypton in the Defender of Truth, Justice and the American Way.

  • True RL! And how could I have overlooked Duck Dodgers, the champion of justice in the 24th and a half century?

  • Don, I think you hit on an imporant point that the Weekly Standard article only inches toward.

    Take this as a thesis: Spiderman is human, Batman is angelic.

    Batman isn’t a superpowered being so much as supernatural. He knows everything, is all-powerful, and acts with perfect motives. He fights beings that are pure evil. In his origin story, he was only a witness to sin. On the other hand, Spiderman was born in original sin. Peter Parker is trying to improve himself, whereas Batman always seems to be perfect. Spiderman’s enemies are as human and error-prone as he is.

    Batman isn’t a character to be emulated. We’re foolish and sinful. We’re not the world’s greatest anything. Humans make their biggest mistakes when they think of themselves as angelic: willing to become agents of God’s pure wrath in order to make the world a better place. That’s where the Weekly Standard rightly senses something dangerous.

  • Wow Don. i didn’t know about Duck Dodgers – at least I sure don’t remember it. Pretty cool stuff.

    Merry Christmas!

  • Duck Dodgers came out a few years ago. It became a favorite of my kids and I enjoyed it also. Merry Christmas RL!

  • “Take this as a thesis: Spiderman is human, Batman is angelic.”

    Interesting thesis Pinky. I always found Superman to be a more down to earth character than Batman, in spite of his vast powers. Batman was sort of an archetype of Nemesis in his war against the underworld, as he was originally portrayed. This changed in the Fifties when Batman got involved in science fiction and time travel adventures and became a much more run of the mill superhero. DC returned to the original concept with the New Look Batman stories starting in 1965.

  • I’m sure you know Bats better than I do. The most I know about Batman’s history is that he’s oscillated between dark avenger and camp. But he does play with being a force of nature, an archetype of fear. Spiderman is a spider because he got bitten by a spider. Batman is a bat because he thinks it taps into subconscious fears.

    Now Superman, I never could relate to. He’s 100% of everything good, so there’s never any suspense with him, except for the inevitable Kryptonite. The guy has one weakness, so every writer has to exploit it, or there’d be no story. I never found Superman to be any more human than Popeye.

  • Superman has several weaknesses:

    Kryptonite, in manifold forms; magic; and he loses his power under a red sun. In the Golden Age of comics in the forties the fact that Superman was so immensely powerful was overlooked and he almost always battled gangsters with no superpowers, with the exceptions being Lex Luthor and a very few supervillains such as the Toyman. Since that time writers for Superman and Action Comics have been bedeviled at trying to come up with situations for Superman that are challenging without relying on one of his weaknesses all the time. Periodically Superman’s powers have been reduced, but the pull to portray Superman as the most powerful of superheroes is apparently irresistible at DC.

Language & Determinism

Thursday, October 18, AD 2012

I have been obsessively reading articles on neuroscience, determinism and free will lately. Much of what I read is fascinating, but it is what I haven’t read that I find even more interesting. As I type these words, I am making, with each word, what I would call a choice. Some choices are easier than others, obviously, if I want my post to follow the basic rules of spelling and grammar that currently govern the English language.

I am doing something more than that, however. I am also assuming that what I write will be read by people who can also make choices. If I am merely disseminating information, there won’t be a choice I am imploring you to make. If I am attempting to convince you that one position regarding a controversial topic – free will vs. determinism, perhaps – is correct and the other is false, I am certainly acting as if you have a really-existing capacity of choosing. You will take the information I supply, sufficiently reflect on its implications for your value system, and decide it is worth acting upon or at least considering. That is the hope, at least.

It is a hope that is undeniably present in virtually every appeal for determinism I have read. Here is one of the more blatant offenders:

 We have or are capable of two sorts of attitude, and thus we may respond to determinism with dismay or intransigence. But we can also attempt to respond in another way. We can attempt to change our feelings. We can see what we must give up, and what we can keep, and the value of what we can keep. This can be called the response of affirmation.

Really? We may? We can? How? How might we do that? What faculty enables me to do these things? I call it free will. If free will is something other than this faculty, I don’t know what free will is.

Here is another example, this time of an author spelling out the implication of determinism:

What we should discard is the idea of punishment as retribution, which rests on the false notion that people can choose to do wrong.

I scratch my head in awe and wonder that someone who just insisted that free will is an illusion and choice a myth can make appeals to reason, to an imagined faculty of choosing. In many of the articles I read, the determinists are always described as “rational” or even “hyper-rational”, they’re so rational that they are bursting and oozing with rationality from every pore and orifice.

And yet there is no rational form of communication that can convey their most fundamental premises and beliefs. Advanced human communication, verbal and nonverbal alike, presupposes the capacity to choose. Articles by determinists are filled with moral exhortations for positive action, for changes of heart and attitude, for compassion towards the poor sinners who couldn’t have chosen not to sin.  These are not the grunts and groans of mindless animals, but the deliberately and freely chosen words of conscious beings who would like to see people behave and think differently than they currently do.

There is something deeply wrong with a worldview that must continually acknowledge that its premises sound absurd from the standpoint of human experience  but are justified by “the science.” Free will isn’t the false idea here. It is physicalism. Free will is how we describe what occurs millions of times in the life of millions of human beings every day. Physicalism is how presumptuous opposition to anything even resembling the supernatural or religious ought to be described. But who will have the courage to challenge physicalism instead of merely defending the constantly experienced reality of free will?



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3 Responses to Language & Determinism

  • Agreed, excellent post. It has always amused me how arguments like this get couched in the very language that defeats their underlying premises.

  • It was the atheist philosopher and mathematician, Bertrand Russell, who pointed out that determinism is an “empty” concept: it is incapable of distinguishing between any conceivable sequence of events and any other. No test can be devised to distinguished a series of events that is inevitable from one that is not, just as no test can be devised to distinguish an irresistible impulse from one that is merely unresisted.

    As for the supposed “scientific” proof of determinism, Miss Anscombe was able to dismiss it in a paragraph – “The naturalistic hypothesis is that causal laws could be discovered which could be successfully applied to all human behaviour, including thought. If such laws were discovered, they would not show that a man’s reasons were not his reasons; for a man who is explaining his reasons is not giving a causal account at all. “Causes,” in the scientific sense in which this word is used when we speak of causal laws, is to be explained in terms of observed regularities: but the declaration of one’s reasons or motives is not founded on observation of regularities. ‘Reasons’ and ‘motives’ are what is elicited from someone whom we ask to explain himself”

17 Responses to Prudential Judgement

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  • The realm of conscience (properly understood) is coextensive with that of prudential judgment.

    As Newman says, “conscience is not a judgment upon any speculative truth, any abstract doctrine, but bears immediately on conduct, on something to be done or not done. ‘Conscience,’ says St. Thomas, ‘is the practical judgment or dictate of reason, by which we judge what hic et nunc is to be done as being good, or to be avoided as evil.’”

    He goes on to observe that “conscience cannot come into direct collision with the Church’s or the Pope’s infallibility; which is engaged in general propositions, and in the condemnation of particular and given errors.”

    All principles are general and all action is concrete and particular; it is prudential judgment that mediates between the two.

  • Catholic Democrats use “caring for the poor” as their reason to remain Democrats even though the Democrat Party is solely responsible for the continued murder of unborn babies now at 52,000,000 dead. And to “care for the poor” they support sinning against the 10th Commandment; they support “coveting their neighbors’ goods.” And Catholic Democrat legislators like Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and DickDurbin are in the lead promoting that morally warped thinking which enables them to sin even more by “slandering their opponents” claiming they don’t care about the poor and want to “do them harm.” And that position enables the lay and clergy Catholic Democrats to commit “the sin of pride thinking they are ‘better,” i.e., morally superior, than their political opponents.

    I’m so glad the Holy Spirit led me out of that sinful party a long time ago. I have never heard anyone in the party I eventually joined ever speak and act that way towards Democrats. In fact, it is said the main difference between the two major parties is that “Democrats think Republicans are evil; Republicans just think the Democrats are wrong.”

    The Democrat Party survives on the psychological illness of “projection;” which is “the attribution of one’s own ideas, feelings, or attitudes to other people, especially the externalization of blame, guilt or responsibility as a defense against anxiety.”

  • This article helped me pinpoint something that I’ve been noodling over for awhile.

    You say that abortion is an intrinsic evil and therefore not subject to prudential judgment. I agree with the intrinsic evil part, but not necessarily the prudential judgment part. Let me explain.

    Most Catholics will agree that abortion is morally wrong because it kills a baby. However, if you were to ask those same Catholics whether abotion should be criminalized, I think a fair number of them (myself included) will balk at the idea. Why the discrepancy? If abortion is homicide (and it is: when I’m in my snarky moods I use the term feticide in its place) then the perpetrators should be penalized, should they not?

    Except… we live in a world where the popular culture and mainstream media are openly hostile to our point of view. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to anticipate that, if abortion were to be criminalized, there would be outright contempt of the law, and certain factions would be encouraging women to flaut the law in order to stick it to the man.

    So, if abortion is criminalized, we know that there will still be abortions taking place. But abortion, although much safer than it was at the turn of the last century, still has a complication rate. And, if abortion is criminalized, women who are suffering from post-abortion complications will hold off on seeking out medical attention for fear that they will be penalized. Infections will turn septic. It is hard to escape the conclusion that, if abortion is criminalized, women will needlessly die. Nobody wants to see that.

    So, is there not room in the Catholic Faith to say that how we deal with abortion is somewhat a prudential judgment?

  • Because abortion is an intrinsic evil, one cannot argue that it is good in some circumstances. So, for instance, although one might support efforts to ban abortion except in cases of rape and incest because one believed that was the best one could accomplish at the moment, one could not hold that abortion is okay in cases of rape and incest, because the principle of the dignity of human life holds regardless.

    Now, the argument I presented above was that because abortion is an intrinsic evil, one may never, though prudential judgement, come to hold as a Catholic that abortion is a “right”. From a Catholic understanding, one cannot have a right to do something which is always evil.

    One might (though I don’t) come to a conclusion that banning abortion in some particular time and place would cause more harm to the common good than not banning it. This would be analogous to Aquinas’ claim that banning prostitution (a commercial form of fornication, and thus also an intrinsic evil) caused more harm than good to society. However, I don’t tend to think that the argument that people would still get abortions and they would be less likely to seek treatment when there were complications is a good argument for not banning abortion. As the history of abortion rates in America shows us, abortion was far less common in America when abortion was illegal. The rate of women being injured in illegal abortions was also very low (contrary to exaggerated claims by abortion providing organizations such as Planned Parenthood.) I think it’s very hard to make the case that the small disincentive to seek treatment due to injuries suffered is worth failing to save the huge number of lives involved. Even by the most cautious estimates banning abortions would save hundreds of thousands of lives per year.

  • @melissa, you are right that the question of whether an intrinsically evil act should be criminalized is a matter of prudential judgment. Adultery is intrinsically evil but there are prudential reasons for not criminalizing it in today’s America. But in the case of abortion, at least two things should be considered. First, laws against abortion prior to Roe v. Wade did not criminalize mothers but abortionists. They closed down or prevented the opening of abortion mills. It would mean that Planned Parenthood would have to get licensed to and actually perform the mammograms with which the President and others erroneously credit them, instead of killing fetal babies.

    Second, current law makes it a right of mothers to have their babies ripped apart or poisoned while still in the womb, should they choose to do so. Repeal of the almost unlimited abortion license would leave it to the states to decide democratically what restrictions should be placed on such acts and what right such babies should have not to be killed. I would argue that law should recognize the same right not to be killed as it does for newborns or children or adults without discrimination. Even after repeal of Roe, I would still have to join with others to persuade fellow citizens of my state. Let the law be repealed and the debate begin!

  • I do not see how this can be said, “But abortion, although much safer than it was at the turn of the last century…”

    It is like saying, “But murder, although much safer than it was at the turn of the last century…”

    Furthermore, while a majority of women having abortions now survive the procedure while their offspring of course do not (that is the whole point), they are plagued with a variety of chronic physical and psychological problems that hardly make the procedure “safer”, the higher propensity towards breast cancer and depression being two of them.

    The wages of sin are always and everywhere death. There is no such thing as “safer” sin. The term is simply illogical.

  • Anyone who remembers France before the Veil Law of 1975 will know how criminalising abortion would work.

    Pretty well every village had its « faiseuse d’anges » or “angel maker.” Everybody knew it, nobody talked about it and the police considered it “women’s business” and ignored it. It was only when, occasionally, a woman died that the Parquet, like Captain Renault in “Casablanca,” declared themselves shocked, shocked to discover that such things went on and there was a brief flurry of prosecutions.

    Medical practitioners were never prosecuted; it was simply too easy for them to claim that they had simply performed a D & C to remove the placenta, after a spontaneous miscarriage.

    Finally, the offence was a mere « délit » tried before magistrates, as juries simply refused to convict

  • Thank God MPS that the entire world isn’t France.

  • “We shall go before a higher tribunal – a tribunal where a Judge of infinite goodness, as well as infinite justice, will preside, and where many of the judgments of this world will be reversed.” Thomas Meagher

  • Melissa raises a fair and important point. Just because something is intrinsically evil, even seriously so, does not necessarily mean that it should be criminalized. That question is generally one of prudence properly understood. Accordingly, I think that it is technically possible for a faithful Catholic to abhor abortion, concede its seriously evil nature, but nonetheless oppose its criminalization. That said, such a prudential conclusion would in my view require the prudential acceptance of certain factual assumptions that are probably pretty far-fetched.

    In addition, the prudential calculus to which Melissa refers rests with legislators informed by the will of the people, which will is in turn informed by their sense of moral gravity, life experience, practical culpabilty and appropriate punishment; not with federal courts discovering and announcing fabricated rights out of thin air.

    Finally, while Catholic teaching generally does not dictate how all governments should or must address intrinsic evils, it does emphasize that one of the first roles of any legitimate government is to protect the weak and innocent from violence and physical harm. No government can do this perfectly, no matter what laws it chooses to enact or enforce. But a pretty strong case can be made that criminalization of the intentional killing of unborn children, like born children, is not negotiable — at least as an aspirational goal.

  • The Catechism calls for the criminalization of abortion:

    “2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

    “The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”80

    “The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.””

  • Don,
    I do think that the Catechism leaves room for disagreement and uncertainty as to how best to bring civil law into conformity with its teachings. But without question supporting a contrived constitional right that disables legislatures from prudently pursuing that conformity is unconscienable for Catholics. This is why the professed Catholicity of Biden, Pelosi et al is a scandal.

  • Mike Petrik wrote, “In addition, the prudential calculus to which Melissa refers rests with legislators informed by the will of the people, which will is in turn informed by their sense of moral gravity, life experience, practical culpabilty and appropriate punishment; not with federal courts discovering and announcing fabricated rights out of thin air.”

    I absolutely agree. I should certainly like to see abortion criminalised, but, unless the law reflects public opinion, the best-crafted laws will remain a dead letter. Even the attempts of the Vichy government in 1943 to curb abortion by having cases tried by military tribunals and lopping off the head of Marie-Louise Giraud, a laundress who had performed 27 abortions and a typical “angel-maker,” were singularly ineffectual. The abortion rate shy-rocketed during the war years.

    Now Donald McClarey is right that the entire world isn’t France, but I fancy that the attitude to abortion that existed in France before 1975 has become much commoner throughout the West. It certainly has in my native Scotland, where, even amongst the poorest class there was an unreflective but powerful assumption that “Once you’re pregnant, that’s it – It’s your baby.”

  • Thanks, Michael. I agree that laws that do not reflect social consensus are usually problematic, though perhaps not always. Federal civil rights laws were certainly enforced on parts of America where they did not reflect majority opinion. Nonetheless, public opinion eventually followed in part because the law has some teaching effect. That said, laws that are forced onto a community that disagrees with those laws often lead to backlash or other unintended consequences. It is precisely the unpredictable nature of social response to laws that generally make them an exercise in prudence.

    I take a back seat to no one in regard to my pro-life views. Yet, I am willing to acknowledge the possiblity of faithful Catholics disagreeing with questions pertaining to how far how fast. This does not mean that I accept at face value the assertions of those Catholics who dismiss the pro-life movement as imprudent while claiming “personally pro-life.” With rare exception this is lying nonnsense. In truth these people simply don’t care much about the murder of unborn children notwithstanding their protestations to the contrary.

  • The quote from the catechism, that Don McClarey kindly pointed us to, teaches a most important principle which should, perhaps, be more clearly stated: it is deadly for the state to carve out a subset of society which is to be denied the most fundamental right to life, even if this is to avoid most serious inconvenience. That way lies gas chambers. The outcome of legalized abortion is this, that I, at 69 years of age, know how I will die. I will be murdered. There will come a time when it is seriously inconvenient for society to keep me alive. Making life a discretionary choice of another allows no defensible distinction between the fetus and the geezer. Even if a law against abortion is largely unenforceable, maintaining the principle that life is not subject to discretionary choice is the only protection that any of us have when we cause inconvenience.

  • Sirlouis

    The case of euthanasia is very instructive. In the Netherlands, the legalisation of euthanasia in 2002 was generally recognised as the legal recognition of what had been the practice of doctors and prosecutors for twenty years, going back to the Postma case in 1973. Indeed, the Postma case itself reflected what doctors had already been doing discreetly, with the support of patients’ families and of a large number of the leaders of public opinion.

    The law of 2002 was a (largely futile) attempt to regulate what was already happening on the ground.

    In other words, legislative changes tend to be symptoms not causes of changes in public attitudes.

    Michael Petrik

    The Fifteenth Amendment, which had rusted in idleness for nearly 90 years, proved a very useful weapon when public opinion in the country at large invigorated the Federal government to enforce it.

How I Chose To Argue For Free Will

Monday, September 17, AD 2012

Hello TAC, it is good to be posting again after a prolonged illness that left me unable to do anything but make half-conscious Facebook updates. I have been following the news, and for the sake of our collective sanity, I am going to refrain from extended commentary on foreign affairs. Instead I wanted to share with you an interesting discussion I had recently with some rather confident, cocky atheists on the question of free will.

It had begun as a debate on the so-called “problem of evil.” They think we have a problem with evil; maybe some Christians do, but I don’t. But I do think atheists – by which I mean Western, science-worshiping, philosophical materialists – have a problem with evil. Namely, how do materialists who reject free will (either explicitly or implicitly, depending on how well they’ve thought it out) even speak of such a thing as “evil”? Assuming we are speaking of human acts, and not things like bad weather, to describe an act as “evil” or malicious or malevolent or something similar assumes and implies that it was freely chosen. No one speaks of a lion’s decision to tear apart a zebra for sustenance as an “evil” act. What mindless animals do has no moral significance whatsoever. What people do has significance solely on the assumption that we can choose otherwise. In other words, free will. Without the assumption of free will, morality utterly collapses into a meaningless rubbish heap.

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7 Responses to How I Chose To Argue For Free Will

  • It is worth pointing out that determinism is an “empty” concept. It is incapable of distinguishing any conceivable sequence of events from any other and so adds nothing to a description of them. Put another way, what test can be used to distinguish an irresistible impulse from one that is merely unresisted?

    An hypothesis that cannot possibly be falsified is “not even wrong,” but meaningless.

  • I am sorry you were Il, Bonchamps. I pray that you are now restored to full good health. As for the tactic that you employed against your atheist detractor as described in your post, I say bravo.

  • Thank you for the post Bonchamps.
    Freewill is the medium used to love God, or distance oneself from Him. He Loves perfectly.
    We have a distorted love, however time and the practice of virtue, allows us to partake in refining our imperfect love. Thank God for freewill.

  • In my experience, materialists are not living lives totally disconnected from their beliefs. They are like those who claim they hold Christian beliefs yet hold back some area of their lives, such as a fond sin, an unforgivable hurt, or a small piece of autonomy.
    What materialists usually hang onto are generally profound things. They hang on to a deep desire for meaning in life, to a sense of good and evil, and to an acknowledgement that they are moral agents; that they have free will.
    I appreciate the frustration of dealing with people who are not totally conscious of their real worldview, whether they claim to be Christian or materialist. In the materialist camp, only the nihilists have completely thought thru their worldviews. I don’t know if Dawkins puts himself in that camp, but I put him there. He has written that asking what the meaning of life is, is itself a meaningless question.
    In dealing with these people I urge acting in love and praying for the quidance of the Holy Spirit. Finding that non-materialist nugget they are holding on to may be the key to their salvation, just as that last piece of our lives we’ve withheld from Christ is the key to our damnation.

  • I read somewhere that Fulton Sheen (I think) had the argument that atheists obviously do believe in God because they spend too much time worrying & thinking about Him. If I don’t believe in zombies & don’t think they exist, I can get on with my days quite nicely without having to shout from the rooftops or put up billboards or force others to not celebrate them. I can easily just say, “I don’t believe in zombies,” and live & let live. There’s no bullying involved in my hoping that everyone else would give up the idea that zombies do exist. I don’t need to start the Humans Against Zombies Club & hope that everyone will see my way. I don’t need to hurl insults at those who believe in zombies.

  • MaryAnne…nice point of view. Thanks. I know I’ll use this next week…if you don’t mind. Non-believer acquaintance…Phil.

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Newt Is (or at Least Was) Kind of a Jerk

Thursday, January 19, AD 2012

Marianne Gingrich’s claim that Newt wanted an open marriage is the news story of the day.  In all honesty, this doesn’t tell us that much more about Newt than we didn’t know already.  Some have already said that this is no worse than simply cheating on your spouse, and, politically speaking, this might not have any impact at all on the race.

That being the case, it does serve as a forceful reminder that Newt Gingrich is kind of a jerk.  In fact, I think that if his ex-wife’s claims are true (and admittedly, we don’t know for certain), then it is even a bit creepier than just having an affair.  It indicates that Newt is not that concerned about the feelings of other people.  Based on what we know of the man, he gives off a vibe that he views other people as simply pawns.  While he would hardly be the first such personality to become president, it doesn’t mean we should be so flippant about allowing such a man to obtain the highest office in the land.

Now, we know that Newt has had a conversion, and that people change over the course of their lives.  Perhaps the Newt from the mid 1990s is not the same man that he is today.  We can’t really judge the state of a man’s soul, and I don’t propose to do that now.  But we have to consider a couple of things.  First of all, as we are all too well aware, simply becoming a Catholic does not make one a saint.  We are abundantly aware that we are all sinners, and though we all hope that a closer relationship to Jesus fostered through the Church makes us better people, it’s still a struggle.

More importantly, this didn’t happen when Newt was a young man.  Newt was nearly two decades older than I am right now when this all happened.  Yes, men older than Newt have had conversions of the heart.  But a conversion is not necessarily a transformation into a completely new man.

I don’t know what kind of person Newt is right now.  But I know what he has been, and I’m not going to turn a blind eye to an individual’s character simply because people on the other side of the aisle are all too willing to do so.

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29 Responses to Newt Is (or at Least Was) Kind of a Jerk

  • She has said this before. This is her first on TV but the story has been around. He has apologised for it all. I miss you point, age has nothing to do with whether a man or woman are satisfied in a marriage. He could have carried on secret liaisons, but was open with her about it all. Not ideal but this side of heaven few people are.

  • The point about age is that he was not some young cad who had not yet fully matured. He was a past middle-aged man whose moral character had fully developed. As I said, it doesn’t mean that he couldn’t have changed, but let’s be honest about who he was.

    Not ideal but this side of heaven few people are.

    Not all of us habitually break marriage vows or treat others as disposable playthings. Yes, we are all sinners. But, well, some sin more than others. While we’re not electing saints, can we at least have a little bit higher of a bar than this?

  • Yeah, honestly, given how I felt about Clinton in the same time period this was going on, this makes me pretty damn reluctant to give Newt any support.

    We already know the guy is a policy loose cannon. Now we have further evidence (not like we didn’t have evidence before) that he’s personally unreliable. There’s just not much to like about the guy. (Other than not being Obama, of which the US currently has over 300 million.)

    Santorum or Romney.

  • Imagine the polling disparity between male and female voters if Newt gets nominated. Won’t be pretty. The only way he could win is if the economy tanks more than it has now. Too much baggage, too little discipline, too much of a risk of Bad Newt returning. He’s a better debater than Obama–by far–but that won’t move enough voters, all other things being equal.

    I’ve tried to talk myself into supporting Gingrich, but I find my arguments less than compelling. The only one left who doesn’t give me the willies is Santorum. And I don’t see him winning either.

  • *in with the obvious joke*

    Maybe she’s trying to help him with the hard-line Ayn Rand crowd….

  • Yeah, our choices for president this Fall have been whittled down to: the scrub already occupying the Office, the milquetoast moderate flip-flopper, the libertarian loon, the egotistical sociopath, and Rick Santorum. Such a tough call for me, but I’m gonna go with Santorum.

    Oh, but he endorsed Specter.

    Again, look at the alternatives.

  • In reply to Newt is a Jerk…the whole purpose of the Catholic Church is to save souls. What good is it if we repent before God and then our own community condemns our past when Christ has blotted out our sin? Don’t you think this is very judgmental? I would remind the brethren that we are all sinners and it may take a longer time for transformation, but that is between us and the Lord. If our lives have changed then we need to give people the benefit of the doubt. Jesus told us, “The man who says he does not sin is a liar.” The church is for “sinners”. Duh?! Newt Gingrich is the only candidate I believe that can beat Barack Obama, a support of abortions and gay marriage among other things I am sure we know God would not want. This is a fact. Not judging. Barack Obama is “not a christian”. He can’t be with these ideals. Remember the type of men Jesus chose to establish his church. They were far worse in some areas. Please think. I like Rick Santorum and maybe in another election he would win, but I believe Newt can beat him and we have a better chance to save our country and our church. God Bless.

  • Wait a second, Paul! What do you mean, you don’t become a saint automatically? No one told me I was going to have to *work* on being good. That does it, I’m becoming an evangelical. They don’t have to do anything.

    In the spirit of ecumenism, I would like to denounce my last paragraph.

    More seriously, this interview doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Did Newt use the phrase “open marriage”? Or did he just say that he didn’t want to break off his affair? There may not be much of a practical difference between the two, but the creepiness factor of an open marriage is way worse.

    430, I don’t think it’s a gimme that Newt could win the general, or that Santorum or Romney couldn’t.

  • I also think our country needs to wake up. Newt tells it like it is. Our people don’t seem to hear or see anymore. It’s like we’ve been in a fog for so many years, including our church. My personal opinion only, I think God has allowed us to be kicked in the pants and many don’t know what to do with “reality”. We are in trouble in our country and in our church. The idea of offending anyone or hurting someone’s feelings has left us with a group of whining liberals and cowards as politicians. Newt knew he would take the pain and decided to do it anyway. Most would never dare with the baggage that Newt has had in his life. Oh how God does confound the wise! Think, pray and ask for wisdom. If Newt can’t beat Obama, than nobody can unless we have another candidate. When are we going to see a democrat rise up and fight for these values we have held in our country. We are a free nation and if we want to stay this way, we better get tough and stop attacking Catholics that have repented.

  • Pinky, you may be right. But I speak as a Catholic and I can only vote as a Catholic. Romney made it clear last week that “contraception is working just fine and we should leave it alone”. So….we still have two Catholics available to us. Santorum and Gingrich. Gingrich is pro-life and for marriage between man and woman. So does Santorum. Ok. We do have a choice on morals this election. And we have a Catholic that could beat Obama. I do not believe that Santorum can beat Obama. I believe Newt can. I also believe that Romney is just not tough enough. Romney is very wishy washy and always sounds like he is stuttering and nervous in his answers. Not very sure at times how to answer. This is just the primary. How would he do in the general election. We would be taking a chance we cannot afford this time. Newt is experienced, knowledgeable and not afraid to speak his mind. We need to wake up and listen. Hear what Newt is saying. He speaks clearly and explains what he means. I can’t believe the sharpest minds on many websites distort what he says all the time. They don’t seem to “hear” or understand what he says and means. He will beat Obama if he wins. We need tough. Look at the Presidents we have had in the White House and people judge Newt? Really??

  • And we have a Catholic that could beat Obama. I do not believe that Santorum can beat Obama.

    How do you know that? If anything, the morally clean gentleman who twice won statewide election in a moderately blue state is more likely to win a general election than one of the most nationally reviled political figures of the past 20 years. Honestly, Obama is so unpopular that almost any conservative who retains the support of the base is very likely to win. Finally, considering the ins and outs of this primary season, I don’t know how anybody can predict the mood of the electorate 10 days out, let alone 10 months.

  • Paul, that’s a valid point, and one that was really driven home during the last election. Everyone assumed that the election was going to be “about” foreign policy, and that’s how McCain and Obama positioned themselves. That was before the stock market lost a billion points in September. We don’t know yet what this election is going to be about. BTW, that’s one of the problems with such early primaries. Ideally, each party would choose a candidate who is qualified and has a vision for all fronts, but in truth each party makes decisions about a candidate’s marketability on the issues that they think will be important in November. And that’s a long way away. As I’ve said before, I hope the election isn’t about US/Pakistan relations and government meat inspection, because that would mean that something horrible had happened on those fronts. We can somewhat safely predict that the economy and the budget are going to be major issues – but there’s a full 1/4 of a presidential term between now and the election.

  • Paul, Good question. South Carolina has to determine who wins this Saturday. Based on the polls, Santorum so far, is not doing good. Maybe I should have said that if Newt wins the nomination, then I do think he can beat Obama. You might be right with Santorum, but I just dont’ see him tough enough. I could be wrong. I do hope one of them beats Obama. I certainly do not want Romney. I can’t anyway. He approves contraception which is a no no to Catholics. I know some don’t count that, but I do. I have to as a Catholic. BUT…to assume “anyone” is better than Obama and would win it, I beg to differ. All would BE a better President than Obama, but NOT all can beat Obama. I do hope you are right. Thanks for your post.

  • That was then. This is now.

    Big thing: Newt is (and always will be) not Obama.

    Seems talking about someone’s divorce is how Obiemessiah got to be a senator.

  • Mr Gingrich has already done yeoman service by breaking the mould of political discourse. He has taken on all comers; Wall Street predators, race greviance mongers and the Muslim crybabies. By doing so he has made easier for genuinely republican values to prevail.

  • Newt Gingrich is and was a statesman who can think on his feet without the need for “advisors”. Elections are not the same as opportunities for speculation and judgment about personal aspects of a life being lived. He is and was able and willing to address the state of the nation.

    I object to the term ‘jerk’ here. There are and have been others elected to govern that earned the term, however.

  • Instapundit: Seen on Face Book, “I don’t care if Gingrich was a swinger at this point. If he gets the nod, he gets my vote, because at least he was screwing a woman and NOT AMERICA.”

  • Bet he’d get some work for the USA done at the desk, too.

  • Harsh crowd here, last I heard him say he has sought reconciliation and forgiveness. If God can forgive him so can we.

    Let’s move on from it and see it for what it is, an attack by a liberal media network one day before the primaries with the sole purpose of derailing Newt. Like him or not, ABC was out to get him. They dug up dirt from a long time ago and threw it all over the internet.

  • No doubt about it, what Gingrich did to his ex-wife was the act of an unmitigated cad. There is no excusing it nor is there any way around it…but there is Christ’s offer of forgiveness, along with the warning that those who don’t forgive will not be forgiven. Leave it to the people on the left to say that if you ever once sinned, you are forever condemned…leave it to them to assert that if you’ve done wrong, you’re only way to “redemption” is to claim that doing the wrong thing is virtuous (this is how “gay rights” got its foothold). It is for us to ask – what has Gingrich done, lately? If, as I understand, God in some way forgets our sins once we ask forgiveness, then surely we can do as much. A man who cheated on his wife last month is someone who needs to go in to the spiritual dog house for a while in order to find redemption…someone who cheated on his wife more than a decade ago and has since converted to the one, true Church is someone who long ago left the dog house.

  • Are we done with the red herrings yet?

  • “We can’t really judge the state of a man’s soul, and I don’t propose to do that now. ”

    …and a few minutes later:

    “our choices for president this Fall have been whittled down to: the scrub already occupying the Office, the milquetoast moderate flip-flopper, the libertarian loon, the egotistical sociopath, and Rick Santorum.”

    what a swell guy you are Paul….getting tips from Mark Shea?

  • You are correct Jasper, and I should have been more temperate in my remark there regarding Gingrich. But I do stand by the fact that we cannot be naive with regards to the man’s character.

  • Did anyone on here see or hear or read today the full Mr Gingrich interview by Mr King.? He said his two daughters made themselves available to ABC regarding his second marriage, as well as friends who knew the facts. Not allowed! Character is not just about fidelity in marriage. It is about one’s whole life, past to present. Take away the spin-doctors, the advisers, the speech writers and the teleprompter and what is the real character of any POTUS? The candidate is much more “transparent” to use the much-quoted word today. As a US citizen looking back at the scene from Europe, Newt was a real human being last night.

  • As I read history only one perfect human was without sin and He was crucified and accused of being a traitor and worked His miracles with Old Nick himself. I add King David to the list of sinners who kept their jobs, a miurderer-adulterer who wrote Psalm 51 in repentance. Mr Gingrich as I noted said that ABC refused to allow his daughters and some in-the-know people tell what happened with his ex-wife. He said the reports were not true. To me that puts his reply to Mr. King, in contrext, using ABC as an excuse to nail Newt. IF I were back there he would have my vote as the most qualified, less burdened by baggage candidate who has any chance at beating the incumbent in debate and on the issues. He is not running to replace Jesus or the Pope but to unseat a man who has not met his own goals and broken too many promises. And came from Chicago’s School of Democratic Public Service and was a community organiser which are not really qualifications for the POTUS.

  • HT, I think we can set the bar for our candidates somewhere between Christ and Lucifer.

    And no, I am not comparing Newt or anyone else to Satan. I just think that it’s a little bit extreme to say that no one is perfect, therefore we should have absolutely no concern about a candidate’s character. To me that is moral relativism run amok.

  • If my Irish humour may be excused, I do not consider Mr Obama “Lucifer,” the Light-bearer. He is not that ” bright” without the teleprompter!

  • If my Irish humour may be excused, I do not consider Mr Obama “Lucifer,” the Light-bearer. He is not that ” bright” without the teleprompter!

William Roper v. Richard Rich

Sunday, October 9, AD 2011

 In good faith, Mr. Rich, I am more sorry for your perjury than mine own peril; and know you that neither I nor any one else to my knowledge ever took you to be a man of such credit as either I or any other could vouchsafe to communicate with you in any matter of importance.

Saint Thomas More


Two arresting scenes from A Man For All Seasons, (1966).  Usually the second scene in the video clip is remembered for the statement by Sir Thomas More that he would give even the devil benefit of the law.  I have written about that statement here.  However there is another interesting facet to the pairing of these two scenes:  a comparison of William Roper and Richard Rich.

Sir Thomas is fond of Roper the suitor of his daughter, and the fondness is obvious in the scene.  However, he will not allow him to marry his daughter because he is a heretic.  More notes that at one time Roper was a passionate churchman and now he is a passionate Lutheran and hopes that when his head stops spinning it will be to the front again.  (Roper did become an orthodox Catholic again and remained one till his death, even under the reign of Bad Queen Bess.)  In spite of Roper being something that Sir Thomas detests, that does not alter either his liking or his high regard for the young man.  Why is this?  Because Roper is obviously seeking after the truth and attempting to do what he thinks is right.  Such good motivation is to be respected even when it reaches erroneous conclusions.

Richard Rich on the other hand lacks such motivation.  More likes him also, but recognizes that he has no character.  Rich will do whatever it takes for him to rise in the world, and if that involves immoral actions, so be it.  Unlike Roper he lacks any good motivation or honest intent.  (The historical Rich was a complete scoundrel and recognized as such at the time.  He specialized in betrayals and making himself useful to whoever was in power at the time.  Under Henry and Edward he persecuted Catholics, under Mary he persecuted Protestants, and under Elizabeth he was whatever she was.  It is a sad commentary on the human condition that such an open, time-serving villain prospered and died in his bed, the founder of an aristocratic dynasty.)

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6 Responses to William Roper v. Richard Rich

  • Well of course “Parliament has not the competence” – it’s Parliament! What possible competence could it have? 😉

  • Those are some pretty interesting thoughts there Don; I had not considered More’s perception of Roper & Rich, but it completely makes sense. Are there any books or other movies on More’s life that you might recommend?

  • There are endless good books on Saint Thomas Kyle!

    William Roper’s life of his father-in-law is the starting point for all More biographers.

    One of the more recent bios is Peter Ackroyd’s Life of Thomas More, which has some of the best recent scholarship on More.

    I have enjoyed The Field is Won by Ernest Edwin Reynolds.

    The late Richard Marius did an interesting, if critical, biography of More in 1984. Marius was editor of the Yale collection of the writings of More, and knew his source material, but his bio was marred by Marius attempting to portray More as troubled by religious doubt. Actually Marius, a fallen away evangelical, was reading his own lack of faith into More. He pulled the same unconvincing analysis in his bio of Luther.

    More biographies are endless, and in his case it is always “More the merrier!”

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  • One thing about the line about giving the devil benefit of law for his own safety:
    The law didn’t keep him safe did it? St. Thomas lost his life because a legal proceeding warped by the perjury of someone who didn’t respect the law!

  • John Guy’s A Daughter’s Love: Thomas More and His Dearest Meg gives a rather negative portrayal of Roper.

Trolley Madness

Friday, July 1, AD 2011

At last, I have come across the Trolley Problem which truly gets at the difficulties of modern life.

On Twin Earth, a brain in a vat is at the wheel of a runaway trolley. There are only two options that the brain can take: the right side of the fork in the track or the left side of the fork. There is no way in sight of derailing or stopping the trolley and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows trolleys. The brain is causally hooked up to the trolley such that the brain can determine the course which the trolley will take.

On the right side of the track there is a single railroad worker, Jones, who will definitely be killed if the brain steers the trolley to the right. If the railman on the right lives, he will go on to kill five men for the sake of killing them, but in doing so will inadvertently save the lives of thirty orphans (one of the five men he will kill is planning to destroy a bridge that the orphans’ bus will be crossing later that night). One of the orphans that will be killed would have grown up to become a tyrant who would make good utilitarian men do bad things. Another of the orphans would grow up to become G.E.M. Anscombe, while a third would invent the pop-top can.

If the brain in the vat chooses the left side of the track, the trolley will definitely hit and kill a railman on the left side of the track, ‘Leftie,’ and will hit and destroy ten beating hearts on the track that could (and would) have been transplanted into ten patients in the local hospital that will die without donor hearts. These are the only hearts available, and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows hearts. If the railman on the left side of the track lives, he too will kill five men, in fact the same five that the railman on the right would kill. However, ‘Leftie’ will kill the five as an unintended consequence of saving ten men: he will inadvertently kill the five men rushing the ten hearts to the local hospital for transplantation. A further result of ‘Leftie’s’ act would be that the busload of orphans will be spared. Among the five men killed by ‘Leftie’ are both the man responsible for putting the brain at the controls of the trolley, and the author of this example. If the ten hearts and ‘Leftie’ are killed by the trolley, the ten prospective heart-transplant patients will die and their kidneys will be used to save the lives of twenty kidney-transplant patients, one of whom will grow up to cure cancer, and one of whom will grow up to be Hitler. There are other kidneys and dialysis machines available; however, the brain does not know kidneys, and this is not a factor.

Assume that the brain’s choice, whatever it turns out to be, will serve as an example to other brains-in-vats and so the effects of his decision will be amplified. Also assume that if the brain chooses the right side of the fork, an unjust war free of war crimes will ensue, while if the brain chooses the left fork, a just war fraught with war crimes will result. Furthermore, there is an intermittently active Cartesian demon deceiving the brain in such a manner that the brain is never sure if it is being deceived.

What should the brain do?

Excerpted from:
– Michael F. Patton Jr., “Tissues in the Profession: Can Bad Men Make Good Brains Do Bad Things?”, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, January 1988

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10 Responses to Trolley Madness

  • “Imagine you can only make one of two choices, and they’re both bad, and really complicated, and have some good come of them. What do you do?”

    “I call up Spiderman.”

  • (Can you tell I really hate these sort of philosophy questions?)

  • Indeed. I really loath the “thought experiment” approach to moralizing. I thought this did a pretty good job of showing up the absurdity of trolleyology and the like.

  • *grin* Sadly, I can see someone proposing this and being serious.

    Keep in mind, this is from someone who has a scheduled post coming up about what the X-men do wrong in their PR, and how unrealistic the response to them is; I could be a bit off-norm in what I consider serious.

  • We need the pop-top can.

  • “What should the brain do? ”

    Reprogram this Kobayashi Maru scenario.

  • The moral choice is to take the left fork.

    You guys are missing the simple logic of it all. In all the complexity of body counts, good and evil, and multigeneraltional chains of events, the author gives you the ultimate clue. The guy on the left track is named Leftie.

  • I’m just glad that the guy who designed the equipment to retrofit old soda kegs into homebrew kegs wasn’t involved. We need him.

  • Play golf. Then, whatever happens blame President Bush and make up jokes about Congresswoman Bachman’s confusion over where in Iowa John Wayne was born.

    This solution assumes the trolleybrain is named Barracks Obama.

  • An issue with this type of hypothical is that it promotes rationalization and that there is no right or moral answer. These are typically given to 18-22 year olds that do not have the knowledge to dismiss them as the junk moral problem they are by professors with an agenda.

Moral Sense and Unequal Exchange

Wednesday, June 22, AD 2011

Every week I make a point of finding the time to listen to the EconTalk podcast — a one hour interview on some economics related topic conducted by Prof. Russ Roberts of George Mason university. Roberts himself has economic and political views I’m often (though not always) in sympathy with, but he’s a very fair and thoughtful interviewer and has a wide range of guests. This week’s interview was with a semi-regular on the show, Prof Mike Munger of Duke University, and the topic was the concept of euvoluntary exchange which Munger has been attempting to create.

Munger’s project aims to identify why it is that some seemingly voluntary transactions are seen as morally repugnant by most people, and are either socially disapproved of or outright outlawed. So for example, say that Frank is very poor and desperately wants to provide for his family. Tom is very rich and is loosing eyesight in both his eyes. His doctor believes they can pull off a revolutionary new surgery and transplant a healthy eye into him, but they need the eye of a live, healthy person who matches Tom’s blood type and DNA well. Frank is a match and is willing to give up an eye in return for a million dollars.

Now, there are a few people who lean heavily in the rationalistic direction who would say this sounds like a great idea because it makes most people better off, but most people would react to this with revulsion, and it is in fact illegal to do this kind of thing in the US.

The interesting thing is that voluntarily donating an organ (so long as giving it up isn’t considered too big a detriment to you) is considered morally admirable, and is legal. So, for instance, there was a case a year or two ago in our parish where one young woman in the parish donated a kidney to another parishioner who needed a transplant.

Munger’s argument is that in the Frank and Tom example, the transaction may seem voluntary but it’s not really voluntary because of the disparity in means between Tom and Frank.

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17 Responses to Moral Sense and Unequal Exchange

  • DC,

    Very good blog posting. Informative and interesting.


  • Excellent post, Darwin. Much food for thought. I would suggest that perhaps what is morally permissible and what is morally admirable are two different things. While charity is admirable, it is not required that we give all resources beyond basic needs to the poor — though that would certainly be admirable. I sense that this understanding might contribute to the analysis, though I’m not sure. Perhaps I’ll add more later.

  • Very enlightening. So in Catholic terms, the works of mercy are ways of eliminating non-euvoluntary choices by increasing the BATNA.

  • You seem to be “mixing apples and oranges”, i.e., morals and economics.

    My understanding: economics is the study of the allocations of relatively scarce supplies/resources among relatively unlimited demands/wants. Price is the allocation mechanism. When morals, philosophy, theology, governmental interventions, etc. are applied, economics no longer is the driver.

    Then, what may be the unintended consequences?

    It is likely the recent US financial collapse was magnified by Federal interventions aimed at more widespread home ownership, and concomitant politically motivated “pro-borrower” and “pro-homeowner” policies.

    Contrast that with Canada’s banking system that has consistently promoted responsible borrowing and prudent lending and underwriting practices with little politically motivated interference, while the U.S. banking system seems to have been encouraged to pursue excessive lending risks to “low to moderate income” borrowers because of a political obsession with home ownership.

    N.B., The Canadian government takes responsibility for “affordable housing.”

  • While Prof. Munger may be onto something with his euvoluntary idea, his BATNA criterion is clearly wrong.

    Take the example of the guy who wants to sell me water for $1000 when I am dying of thirst in the desert A transaction is not euvoluntary if the disparity in BATNAs is too great. Suppose, though, that the guy says “hey, you’re our 1000th customer, so you get a bottle of water on the house!” In that case the disparity in BATNAs is even greater than if he charged me $1000. On the other hand, the more he charges for the water, the less disparity in BATNAs there will be.

    Additionally, I don’t think it’s right to say, as Munger does, that if a transaction is euvoluntary then it is necessarily just. In the case of organ donations, for example, you can’t pay for a kidney even if the person you pay has the same standard of living as you do, and I don’t believe you would be allowed to make a live donation of your eyes even if no money was involved.

  • Here’s another interesting wrinkle. In Prof. Roberts example, he is very uncomfortable about the fact that the place he was house-sitting for in Chile had a cook who was supposed to make him dinner. Suppose, though, that instead of house-sitting he had been put up in a hotel and part of his hotel room was free meals at the hotel restaurant. I suspect that Prof. Roberts would not have been uncomfortable at the thought he was being cooked for in that situation, even if the pay for the cooks in the two cases was the same

  • Isn’t this kind of why charging interest use to be a no-no, but it’s not these days? IIRC, the rule is from when you only borrowed if your life/family/serious well-being depended on it, and now borrowing is a simple economic tool or to make things easy?

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  • T Shaw,

    I would agree with you that economics is really only able to look at how systems work, while ethics and morality are used to examine whether some action is moral or not. Munger is clearly doing some kind of ethics or philosophy here, not economics, in trying to determine what sort of transactions are ethical.

    And as such, I’m not sure he’s entirely successful, in that I’m not sure that the inequality he talks about makes an action moral or immoral, though I think he has a very interesting observational point in that clearly a lot of people feel that this kind of inequality makes these actions immoral.


    While Prof. Munger may be onto something with his euvoluntary idea, his BATNA criterion is clearly wrong.

    Take the example of the guy who wants to sell me water for $1000 when I am dying of thirst in the desert A transaction is not euvoluntary if the disparity in BATNAs is too great. Suppose, though, that the guy says “hey, you’re our 1000th customer, so you get a bottle of water on the house!” In that case the disparity in BATNAs is even greater than if he charged me $1000. On the other hand, the more he charges for the water, the less disparity in BATNAs there will be.

    I may be misunderstanding this, but I was taking his assessment of BATNA to be a question of “how much worse does my situation get, compared to the current state, if no transaction takes place.”

    In that situation, the guy in the desert is going to die if he doesn’t get water, so things get much worse for him if he doesn’t get the bottle of water, no matter what the price. For the guy in the Jeep, he’s in exactly the same situation as before if he doesn’t make the sale — he doesn’t have the extra money that would come from price gouging, but he does still have the water, the Jeep, and one assumes a way to get out of the desert.

    If I’m right on this, I think Munger would say that the BATNA is the same regardless of the price charged for the water — but that because the disparity in BATNA is so high, we only feel morally comfortable with the water being given for free or for a “fair” price, not with a high price.

    Additionally, I don’t think it’s right to say, as Munger does, that if a transaction is euvoluntary then it is necessarily just.

    I would agree with you there. One can maybe gloss over it a bit by making a proviso that the parties to the transaction have to have rightly ordered desires, and thus ruling out anything that seems wrong as being not really voluntary because a rightly ordered person wouldn’t want it, but at that point one has just invalidated the whole line of argument.

    The one I thought of was: What if a person honestly wants to commit suicide, and he meets a big game hunter who has always wanted to try hunting a human — so they come to a deal whereby the hunter will give a large sum of money to the suicide’s family in return for being able to kill him. No matter how honestly both parties claimed to be acting freely, and how similar their social station, I don’t think many people would see this as a just transaction. (Though I suppose one could also try to bracket by saying the transaction is just, it’s just that it’s an unjust thing being bought.)

  • BA,

    Here’s another interesting wrinkle. In Prof. Roberts example, he is very uncomfortable about the fact that the place he was house-sitting for in Chile had a cook who was supposed to make him dinner. Suppose, though, that instead of house-sitting he had been put up in a hotel and part of his hotel room was free meals at the hotel restaurant. I suspect that Prof. Roberts would not have been uncomfortable at the thought he was being cooked for in that situation, even if the pay for the cooks in the two cases was the same

    Yeah, you’re right, there’s clearly a sense of directness that is causing the discomfort here. The student probably also wouldn’t have got upset if her hosts had said, “I’ll get your laundry washed for you by the woman who does our laundry,” and then paid the laundry lady the same amount.

    Though there are people who get worried about indirect transactions. For instance, I knew a couple of very earnest women who refused to buy any clothes labeled as being made in certain countries because they were worried that the workers in those countries might not be being paid enough.

  • I may not be getting this at all, but I’ll add my 2 cents.
    This is a question of will and of sin. I need to engage my will in a sin in order for a sin to take place. The house-sitter and the washing customer are only willing to carry on normal, innocuous activities. Their participation in exploitation is too remote to register prudentially. They do not match the (hypothetical) man who will not love his brother enough to give him a cup of water–the Levite wills not to love.
    Economic measures derive from our culture which is based on (Christian) truth. Where we would sin by withholding aid or solace (like the Levite who passes by the robbery victim) our culture strives, by various means including economic theories generated by it, to alert us and cause us to avoid it.
    It seems to me that the gal with the dirty laundry and the house-sitter are evincing scruples foisted on them by materialist liberalism.

  • Darwin,

    The BATNA doesn’t change depending on the price of the water. However, according to Munger’s criterion, what matters is not the BATNA per se, but the *disparity* between the BATNA and the transaction.

    For example, suppose we say that not dying is worth a million dollars to me (purely for purposes of illustration, mind you). If I have to pay $1 for the water, the disparity between the transaction and my BATNA is $999,999. If I have to pay $1000, the disparity is $999,000. If I have to pay $100,000, the disparity is $900,000, and so on. The more I have to pay, the less the disparity between than transaction and my BATNA.

    Or take the sweatshop example. The more you pay the sweatshop workers, the greater the disparity between their sweatshop job and their BATNA. In fact, if you their wages are low enough, then the disparity between their BATNA and the sweatshop job won’t be big at all. So the implication here is that the less you pay sweatshop workers, the closer sweatshop jobs come to being euvolunary. Which is clearly not an accurate description of how anti-sweatshop people think.

  • The BATNA doesn’t change depending on the price of the water. However, according to Munger’s criterion, what matters is not the BATNA per se, but the *disparity* between the BATNA and the transaction.

    Hmmm. I guess what I had taken Munger to be arguing (and what I think I said above, unless I mis-spoke) that he takes it to be a problem (a lack of euvoluntariness) to have a financial transaction in which there is a large disparity in the BATNAs of the two parties in the transaction.

    If your reading is correct, then yeah, his claim is totally incoherent and doesn’t even apply to his examples.

  • What if a person honestly wants to commit suicide, and he meets a big game hunter who has always wanted to try hunting a human — so they come to a deal whereby the hunter will give a large sum of money

    There are times when I am quite pleased I stayed out of philosophy classes.

  • You and me both Art! Whenever I despair over the maddening hairsplitting of the Law, I read some philosophy and I am consoled by the comparison!

  • Heh, fair enough. I’ll admit, that one comes pretty close to the “trolley-ology” that I despise. I just wanted to make the point that unless one is some kind of total relativist, one can’t claim that involuntariness is enough in and of itself to make an action just. 🙂

  • Art- Just the kinda stuff that folks come up with when they try to apply scientific method to right and wrong.

    Guessing everyone here has heard the shocking numbers of college students that would save their own dog before they’d save someone they don’t know when both are drowning in a river?

Choosing Hell

Tuesday, May 3, AD 2011

This post originally ran (I’ve cleaned up a few typos, but otherwise left it unchanged) back in 2006, but the topic has been on my mind, and having found it via Google while researching the topic of the Fundamental Option I decided to rerun this one rather than writing a new one.

Quite some time back, Pontifications ran a post about the theory of “fundamental option”, which it seems is the theological term for the idea that one’s salvation is based upon a fundamental choice that one makes either for or against God.

This image for the determination of one’s salvation has a certain utility in that it is simple and evocative. C. S. Lewis uses it in The Last Battle, where all of Narnia’s creatures face Aslan and swerve either to his right (with loving expressions) or to his left (with hate in their eyes). And yet, like any image or illustration, applying it absolutely leads to distortion. The ‘encounter God and choose’ image helps to emphasize that God’s judgment is not some arbitrary judgment imposed upon us. It also helps to explain how someone externally appearing to have sinned many times might be saved, while someone who to all appearances led a virtuous life, yet held pride in his heart, might reject God and be condemned. And yet, taken as an absolute of ‘salvation by choice alone’ the theory of ‘fundamental option’ becomes just as much a heresy as ‘salvation by faith alone’.

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24 Responses to Choosing Hell

  • In my eyes, the entire discussion about “fundamental choice” is easily misleading.

    The Church doesn’t say that after death there will be a moment when we can choose between (oh what a difficult choice) eternal suffering or eternal supernatural beatitude. I’ve heard of Medjugorie people who truly think this is what is going to happen, and this is extremely dangerous in my eyes.

    It is rather so, that if in our lives we decided to put ourselves willingly and deliberately in frontal conflict with God’s rule and we persevere in this to death, at that point the decision is taken altready. There is no necessity – and no possibility – of an expressly stated decision – absurd in his very object – of “oh yeah, I do want to go to hell”.

    The fundamental choice is, I would say, already included in the life we live and in the way we die.


  • Cool post. Oddly I don’t see this sort of stuff getting talked about all that much.

    I see where you’re going – and where Bl. John Paul II is going – with this thought, and I suppose we have to assume in this day and age that somebody is going to mis-interpret the idea behind the fundamental option to mean that you can choose or reject God the same way you can choose or reject sugar in your coffee. It’s just that the fundamental option is going to end up being an ontological option. A man, by his chosen mode of being, is going to choose one way or another; and that choice would have to be, I imagine, like the choice of the angels in the beginning: resolute and immutable. Unless we believe in apokatastasis now, which I suppose is also not out of the question in this day and age. :/

  • In her diary, St. Faustina writes of a “special light” or “final grace” given to every soul in need of it at the point of death. Yet, pace Mundabor, she also writes that even this is not sufficient to save everyone:

    “Although a person is at the point of death, the merciful God gives the soul that interior vivid moment, so that if the soul is willing, it has the possibility of returning to God. But sometimes, the obduracy in souls is so great that consciously they choose hell; they make useless all the prayers that other souls offer to God for them and even the efforts of God Himself…” (#1698)

    As far as I know, Bl. John Paul II did not explicitly endorse this “interior vivid moment” in his promotion of St. Faustina and devotion to the Divine Mercy.

    In his “Death on a Friday Afternoon,” Fr. Neuhaus famously endorsed the “vivid moment” doctrine, but broke with St. Faustina in saying he couldn’t imagine anyone rejecting God under the circumstances.

    But I’ve understood the “fundamental option” doctrine to refer, not to the moment of death, but to a general tendency or inclination toward God with which one may live one’s life. One corollary of this is that, broadly speaking, there’s no such thing as a mortal sin; what is traditionally called a “state of grace” would be maintained, regardless of individual acts, for as long as the actor in some sense fundamentally chooses God.

  • I guess I’m doomed to hell because as an atheist my morality prevents me from respecting, let alone worshiping for all eternity, a being that purports to be a parent but allows its children to choose suffering for all eternity in hell. I wouldn’t even want that for the Osama bin Laden.

    It’s a lot of mental justification for a behavior that’s unjustifiable.

  • Michael,

    As an atheist, aren’t you kind of assuming that there’s no point where you’d be faced with the choice? Perhaps I presume too much, but I would assume that should you find yourself in such a position, a lot of things would be up for consideration very quickly, as some basic assumptions would have changed.

  • The following is from a sermon (sadly I no longer have the name of the priest) on St. Dismas’ “final grace” conversion and salvation.

    ” . . . Suffering accepted saves this gangster and changes him from a bandit into a saint — the first who entered paradise.

    “How mistaken those who think it easy to be saved after a life of sin, through a conversion at the last minute, like the good thief’s. He had to recognize his sins, renounce his past, accept his cross in the present and desire only the reward promised by Jesus. The conditions for being saved remain the same at the last minute as before: ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mt. 16, 24).”

    St. Dismas not only was converted and repented, he also showed Our Lord compassion and to his unrepentant companion: charity.

    “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fire of Hell; take all souls to Heaven; amd help especially those most in need of Thy mercy.”

  • “I guess I’m doomed to hell because as an atheist my morality prevents me from respecting, let alone worshiping for all eternity, a being that purports to be a parent but allows its children to choose suffering for all eternity in hell.”

    You would prefer a God that produced obedient robots or a God that gives us only an illusion of free will? Man was made in the image of God in that he has free will, just like God. As a result of that free will we can raise ourselves as high as the angels or debase ourselves as low as the demons, it is all up to us.
    As CS Lewis noted in The Great Divorce, “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.”

  • Who made the rule that says you either obey God or suffer eternal torture? If I say to my child not to disobey me and he does and he persists in it do I have the moral right to torture him for months on end? Of course not, but some people believe God has the moral right to do this for all eternity. And what does it tell you about a God who has to make creatures who have to obey him under threat of damnation. It’s like a little boy with his plastic soldiers and when one disobeys him and won’t stand up because it was mal formed throws it in the stove to be destroyed.

  • How odd for an atheist to take this line of attack, unless you are against capital punishment, life imprisonment and all wars. You believe that life ends at the grave. All human societies have used various forms of punishment to enforce the laws they live by which often involve depriving a person of their life or depriving them of the enjoyment of it. What you accuse God of being society always is, to one extent or another. Such power is exercised by societies justly if the punishments are based upon bad conduct of the individuals so punished. We believe that this life is only a prelude to our lives in eternity and what we do in this life has eternal significance. Through our conduct and our conduct alone, we destine ourselves for eternal reward or eternal punishment. It is you who would reduce man to a mere automaton, a toy soldier in the grip of an all-controlling deity. Instead God made us his sons and daughters, free to love and follow him, or to hate and reject him.

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  • Michael,

    Part of the problem here is that you’re using a very primitive conception of hell and judgment. You say:

    Who made the rule that says you either obey God or suffer eternal torture? If I say to my child not to disobey me and he does and he persists in it do I have the moral right to torture him for months on end? Of course not, but some people believe God has the moral right to do this for all eternity.

    Now, I think that, correctly thought about, the punishment model for thinking about Hell is not unfair or irrational in the way you want to suggest, but let’s look at it this way instead, (which, incidentally, you can find in works such as C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.)

    You want to make a comparison to a parent child relationship. Say, however, that your child says to you, “I hate you. I hate everything about you. I hate your house. I hate your food. I hate being near you. I want nothing to do with you.” Is it your belief that the good parent would respond, “Too bad, I’m going to lock you in the house and hold you in a big hug all the time so that you can see how much I love you!”

    No. This would be a denial of the rebellious child’s freedom, and indeed would almost be a form of torture. A good parent would try for a long time to bring the child around, but once that child grows up there will come a point when if the only thing that child wants to do with his freedom is go live under a bridge, drink malt liquor, never shower, and never see his family, the parent is going to be forced to allow that to happen.

    By the same token, if one of God’s creatures refuses to be near God, refuses to follow God’s will, refuses to have anything to do with God, there will come a point where God, if he is to respect our freedom, must let us suffer the consequences of our choices. Even if those choices are the to all appearances a choice to be utterly miserable.

    Sin is not so very different from the more obviously destructive addictions to which humans are subject — and when we insist on giving ourselves over utterly to sin and putting ourselves at an infinite distance from God, we are, by our freedom, able to create for ourselves our very own, private… hell.

  • I generally think of the inscription that Dante put over the gates of Hell when thinking about this topic:

    Per me si va ne la città dolente,
    per me si va ne l’etterno dolore,
    per me si va tra la perduta gente.
    Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore:
    fecemi la divina podestate,
    la somma sapienza e ‘l primo amore.
    Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create
    se non etterne, e io etterno duro.
    Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’entrate

    Through me you go to the grief wracked city; Through me you go to everlasting pain; Through me you go a pass among lost souls. Justice inspired my exalted Creator: I am a creature of the Holiest Power, of Wisdom in the Highest and of Primal Love. Nothing till I was made was made, only eternal beings. And I endure eternally. Abandon all hope – Ye Who Enter Here.

    So to be honest, Hell itself is more an act of love than anything else. Or at least Dante chose to look at it that way. And it makes pretty good sense to me as well.

  • Der Wolfanwalt,


    One of the things that people who haven’t read Dante (or haven’t read him closely) seem not to get is that the damned in Dante are generally not being punished by some force outside themselves, their punishments are physical manifestations of the sins for which they are damned. The kingdom of hell is the land that they’ve built for themselves, in which their choices can be seen in all their reality.

    Dante himself, as the character in the poem, takes a while to catch on to this. With the lustful (who are being blown about by the wind just as they allowed themselves to be blown about by their passions) and the horders and the spendthrifts (rolling great boulders up and down hills at one another, just as they sought to make the piling up, or spending, of material things their highest good in life) he mostly feels sorry for them. It’s when he confronts the swamp of the violent, endlessly fighting each other while sunk in the mires of hatred, that he begins to really see the physical manifestations of sins as what they are and how people are simply doing now what they did before.

  • “So to be honest, Hell itself is more an act of love than anything else. Or at least Dante chose to look at it that way. And it makes pretty good sense to me as well.”

    Wolfie, I am shocked! We agree on something. The ending of the Paradiso sums up that God is Love:

    “But my own wings were not enough for this,
    Had it not been that then my mind there smote
    A flash of lightning, wherein came its wish.

    Here vigour failed the lofty fantasy:
    But now was turning my desire and will,
    Even as a wheel that equally is moved,

    The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.”

  • Hey, Donald. You know what they say…if you’re in the same religion, there’s got to be something to agree on, right? 😉

  • Note, All: The site is undergoing some IT work this evening, so if any comments vanish into the hereafter, it’s not the rage of an angry God, but simply the servers migrating.

  • Yes, indeed a child may decide to turn away from his parents, so if he or she does then the child should “be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.” and where the child may cry out “have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” and “go away into everlasting punishment” where “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night…”

    How can one have a sophisticated view of this sadism?

    There is an easy way out. You just say the Biblical writers were influenced by the prevailing ethic of their time that viewed eternal damnation as acceptable for heresy but not we know that is unsupportable. And just say the concept of hell is no longer believed, at least not for a good God.

  • “Yes, indeed a child may decide to turn away from his parents, so if he or she does then the child should “be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.””

    It depends entirely upon the conduct of the person being judged by God. I can understand why a professed atheist would find the concept of judgment by a God after death that one has spent one’s life denying rather inconvenient.

    “There is an easy way out. You just say the Biblical writers were influenced by the prevailing ethic of their time that viewed eternal damnation as acceptable for heresy but not we know that is unsupportable.”

    Christ Himself spoke of Hell. Your argument is not with us, but with God, not an unusual situation for an atheist to find himself in.

  • “I can understand why a professed atheist would find the concept of judgment by a God after death that one has spent one’s life denying rather inconvenient.” First I spent the first 35 years of my life as a ardent believing Catholic and I’m old enough to remember all the pre-Vatican II sermons on hell that the Church is rather embarassed about now. Secondly I don’t find hell inconvienient, I find it immoral.

    “Your argument is not with us, but with God, not an unusual situation for an atheist to find himself in” Then you agree with me on this? :-> The trouble with arguing with God he never replies, you’a almost begin to think he wasn’t there.

  • “First I spent the first 35 years of my life as a ardent believing Catholic and I’m old enough to remember all the pre-Vatican II sermons on hell that the Church is rather embarassed about now. ”

    Now if you had only listened to them. Judging from your commenting on a Catholic website I would say you are as firm in your atheism today as you were in your Catholicism yesterday.

    “Then you agree with me on this? :-> The trouble with arguing with God he never replies, you’a almost begin to think he wasn’t there.”

    Oh he always replies. Some of us simply pretend not to hear him. The parable of Lazarus that you find so disturbing speaks to this:

    “27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:
    28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
    29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
    30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
    31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

  • Bishop Fulton J. Sheen:

    A heckler asked Bishop Sheen a question about someone who had died. The Bishop replied, “I will ask him when I get to heaven.” The heckler replied, “What if he isn’t in Heaven?”
    The Bishop replied, “Well then you ask him.”

    A man told Bishop Sheen he did not believe in hell. The Bishop replied,
    “You will when you get there.”

    Pray for the conversion of sinners.

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  • The earlier exchanges are among the more interesting I’ve read on The American Catholic. I wonder if I might ask about a different part of the post though:

    “Virtue is often described as ‘the habit of doing good’ while attachment to sin is that moral habit which, once one has sinned, makes it hard to make the right choice in the future. Thus, the first time you lie in order to get out of a difficult situation, you struggle to make it come out convincingly and fear for days that your lie will be found out. But with each transgression the lie comes more naturally, until it becomes nearly impossible to tell the truth in a difficult situation — the convenient lie comes out without even thinking… It is because we are changed as moral agents by our past choices that our fundamental choice for or against God at the particular judgment cannot be divorced from the moral decisions we have made throughout our lives. Each time we sin or resist sin, makes it harder or easier to make that decision at the moment of personal judgment.”

    This does not match my experience. The opposite is often true.

    I have found that it is when I am CLOSEST to what He wants me to be that I am most and most cleverly tempted. Doing good and avoiding bad are certainly habits but I have come to think of Satan as a very real and dynamic person – one most anxious for the souls most difficult to acquire. It seems to me that he doesn’t extend more effort than is needed. If one is wallowing in a particular sin, he simply provides the opportunity and lets the sinner do the rest. However, if the sinner is truly sorry and begins to struggle for freedom, then it is though the particular attention of the beast focusses on him.

    I don’t know that I’m disagreeing but it seems to me that the more clearly one sees one’s faults and frailty, the more one clings to ever-present Mercy. Perhaps this is why greatness in human terms can be so terrible a curse.

  • It sounds to me like you’re saying one notices temptation most when one is trying to do right, but still has that strong tendency towards sinning. Which I would agree on.

    It seems to me that there is a tipping point where it becomes easier again, king of like the point in quitting smoking when you realize that at some point it turned from a constant struggle into not actually wanting a cigarette any more.

If I Weren’t Catholic, I Would…

Friday, February 11, AD 2011

As a Catholic, one is sometimes accused of being so mindlessly doctrinaire that one “accepts anything the pope says without thinking”. However, at other times, one is faced with the opposite challenge: Does your Catholic faith cause you to take any political or moral positions that you wouldn’t take anyway?

Typically, both of these objections are leveled by people who don’t like one’s political or moral stances, but while in the one case it stems from a belief that one would obvious agree with the speaker if only one’s head wasn’t befuddled by religious notions, the other seems to stem from the idea that if only one really took one’s faith seriously, one would agree with the speaker on the point at issue. (Or perhaps alternately, merely a skepticism as to whether anyone actually modifies his life at all due to religious beliefs.)

I think this is a pretty valid question, but if one attempts to think about it seriously, it is a very difficult question to answer, since it leaves one to try to puzzle out how much of one’s beliefs and character are the result of one’s faith, versus how much one picks one’s faith based on beliefs or tendencies one already has.

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28 Responses to If I Weren’t Catholic, I Would…

  • I think my views on domestic and economic matters would be largely unchanged. In regard to foreign policy, I would support a foreign policy largely based on Machiavelli’s The Prince, with a smattering of Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West.

  • Why would you be less likely to empathize with the poor and oppressed? Secularists are all for helping the poor and oppressed, though they are less likely to actually get their hands dirty. They tend to be less violent. They’re driven by a desire to reduce human suffering.

    Having spent some time away from the Church, I can say that I was more consequentialist in the expected ways except a few. I was an absolutist when it came to opposition to capital punishment. Oddly, faith made me less opposed to the practice.

  • Why would you be less likely to empathize with the poor and oppressed? Secularists are all for helping the poor and oppressed, though they are less likely to actually get their hands dirty. They tend to be less violent. They’re driven by a desire to reduce human suffering.

    Many of the friends I had as a kid are now “spiritual but not religious” kind of secular, and they do indeed tend to take a very bleeding heart view of social justice issues.

    So that would certainly be one way of looking at things. But my overall personality has always tended towards the judgmental and pragmatic, so in attempting to think how I might look at things without a belief in God I figured I might sound more like some of the agnostic/atheist libertarian types I’ve run into who look at things more along the lines of: Well, that’s one less undesirable element of society.

    Now I guess I could say that if I weren’t Catholic I’d still have an instinctual idea derived from natural law that one should treat all people as having inherent dignity — but that’s still assuming that Catholicism is true, but that I didn’t believe in it.

  • I think an important element in answering this question for anyone is to consider that, if they weren’t Catholic, they would be something else and that something is not some imagined neutrality. (Darwin hinted at this without saying so explicitly.) At various times I have thought that, if I weren’t Catholic, I would be an atheist (in high school), a Buddhist (in undergrad), or, most recently, a Mennonite (as a grad student in theology). But even those things that appeal to me in other world views tend to do so because of my Catholicity. It is a difficult hypothetical.

    In any case, I know that in my concrete personal situation I would never have even heard that artificial contraception was morally problematic were I not Catholic. I suspect that, were I a non-Catholic, it would sound vaguely like the JW prohibition on blood transfusions. Only if I came face-to-face with serious consequences of using AC would I question such a widespread societal norm.

    And if I had no concerns about the separation of sex from procreation, I would have no problem at all with homosexual acts as such.

    I suspect I would also be slightly less pacifist and slightly less opposed to the death penalty were I not a Catholic, but that, of course, would depend widely on what I was instead. Were I a Mennonite, I would be more pacifist and more opposed to the death penalty.

    I’m the sort of person who would find a cause somewhere though. I would want a systematic worldview and the sense that following through on it passionately would make the world a better place. In other words, I’d be pretty dangerous were I anything but a Catholic. 😉

  • I’m where Mac is, except in foreign policy I’d support the Roman and English model: conquer the world and send all its wealth back home.

    I still could not vote demokrat cxandidates. They create poverty.

  • If I weren’t a Catholic, I would have committed suicide a long time ago. There’s no way I would have made it through my most serious bout of depression without the knowledge that suicide is a mortal sin. Even as a Catholic, at one point I found myself reading moral theology to see if there were exceptions to the prohibition.

  • A Catholic can consider any point of view. The idea that one follows the Pope blindly while seemingly not considering other options is quite silly. Of course many of us do consider other points of view, find either fault or merit in them but at the end of the day, for me at least, no other worldview is as consistent and unemotional and correct as the Catholic one. The non-Catholic argument presupposes an incorrect Catholic view or perhaps a Catholic rejecting his Catholic view for an inferior view, perhaps to spite himself.

  • “You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was *not* Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being.”

    –Evelyn Waugh.

  • Like Darwin, I’m a cradle Catholic so it’s tough to determine. I’d likely be a bit more libertarian economically if I were not Catholic, and most likely would not oppose the death penalty.

  • Dale,

    That’s always been a favorite quote of mine — though I didn’t successfully work it in here.


    Stay Catholic, then! (All joking aside, just sent a quick prayer your way. Hang in there.)

  • DC – It’s ok; I know the rules, and everyone’s got their crosses. It’s just that when I tried to reason through the topic of this article, I realized that for me, any question about where I’d be today as a non-Catholic is moot.

    It is interesting that most of us have said that we’d have less respect for life, in one way or another.

  • I would have married that really hot nurse I knew when I was overseas in the Navy. Only problem with her, from a Catholic standpoint, was that she was in favor of contraception and did not really want kids. And was a functional atheist.

    I suspect we would have been divorced by now.

  • Personally, i have a very hard time imagining what I would be like if I were not catholic. It’s like trying to imagine myself as male-I really wouldn’t be me anymore if I wasn’t catholic!
    I suspect that if I had to choose another faith I would likely have become an evangelical Protestant. I’d still be pro life but not have any problem with birth control, divorce, or the death penalty. I might be more of a doctrinaire conservative if that were the case.

  • If I weren’t Catholic, I would probably be some sort of pagan, and my politics would probably more closely resemble Aristotle’s.

    I would still oppose homosexuality and so-called “gay marriage” because I believe it is anti-social and destructive, but I would “look the other way” and perhaps even facilitate its discrete practice among those who felt they had to satisfy that urge.

    I’d probably be ok with the use of artificial contraception among married couples only, like today’s Protestants. I would still combine that with economic incentives to bear children, because Western birth rates are in the toilet. And I would still totally oppose the distribution of condoms to teenagers.

    I’d be more inclined to support violent revenge in many cases.

    And I certainly wouldn’t have an absolute prohibition on lying (I’d disagree with Aristotle on that one).

    But then, I don’t really want to speculate too much on how dark my personal life would become, and what I would be willing to justify or indulge in, if I didn’t believe in God.

  • The only thing that would stop me from doing “anything” was the possibility of being apprehended. If I had no family, that would be a weaker disincentive.

    From and old cowboy (C&W) song, the most important things in life (updated).

    Older whiskey;
    Younger women;
    Faster cars;
    More money.

    Eat when yer hungry.
    Drink when yer dry.
    If the sky don’t fall in,
    Ye’ll live ’til ye die.

    Cum a Tai Yai Yippee Yippee Yay Yippee Yay

    Too many take seriously too many worldly “things.”

  • Born Catholic but having since strayed, I see no reason to return to the Church, especially in light of the lurid scandals that have plagued. As a betting man who has gambled and usually lost, I still might take Pascal up on his wager. After all, sooner or later, I might win. When God gave out faith as a gift, I somehow got passed up.

    Good thread, though. As usual TAC is provocative.

  • When I read the title of this post “If I Weren’t Catholic, I Would…”, in my mind I immediately completed the sentence “… become one as soon as possible.” I’m Catholic for the same reason I believe everything else I believe in my life: my faith and my reason inform me that it’s true with metaphysical certainty. Imagining the Catholic faith not to be true is like imagining that two plus two does not equal four or the sky is not blue; it makes no sense whatsoever. I’ve read all sorts of apologetic material from all sorts of viewpoints, Catholic, non-Catholic Christian, non-Christian, agnostic and atheist, and the only viewpoint that coheres philosophically is Catholicism. I was providentially born a cradle Catholic, but if I hadn’t been, I surely would have converted, led by the same reasoning that led me to all that I believe. To imagine myself as anything but Catholic, I should have to imagine myself as not being me.

  • “especially in light of the lurid scandals that have plagued.”

    Yeah Joe, that Judas scandal was earth shaking! 🙂

    Which reminds me of a story. A Jewish merchant and a Catholic merchant were friends in a medieval Italian city. The Jewish merchant becomes interested in Catholicism, but hesitates about converting. His friend encourages him, but then is alarmed when the Jewish merchant decides to go to Rome to investigate Catholicism at its heart. The Catholic merchant is alarmed because he is aware of the corruption rampant in the Church there. The Jew comes back in two weeks and anounces that he is now a baptized Catholic. His friend sputters, “But all the corruption in Rome…”. The new Catholic holds up his hand. “That is what convinced me! If I ran my business the way the Church is run, I’d be bankrupt or in jail in a week! Yet the Church has endured for centuries! It must be of God!”

  • Joe,

    Before worrying about what it means to “return to the Church”, focus on what it means to hold the Catholic faith. Truth does not depend upon the morality of the hierarchy or the bureaucracy. Many of us “traditionalists” will readily concede that there is corruption and immorality rampant in the Church, at the parish and diocesan level and even higher up than that. But this does not shake our faith in the least. The Church is a 2000 year old divinely established institution that has seen her share of crises and scandals and survived them all. And even if this is the scandal to end all scandals, it only means that the day is near when Christ will return, the consummation of the world.

  • As my old friend Thomas Hardy once said, “There is a condition worse than blindness, and that is, seeing something that isn’t there.

  • Joe: By their fruits, ye shall known them.

  • An odd thing for Hardy to say Joe considering his interest in spiritism.

    A good article on Hardy and his faith haunted life:


  • Don, thanks for the interesting link. Hardy is one of my favorite Victorian authors, along with George Eliot (another apostate). Hardy wrote: “Pessimism … is, in brief, playing the sure game … It is the only view of life in which you can never be disappointed.” I Hard-ily agree.

  • I prefer Thomas Babington Macaulay myself, not so much for his history as his essays, which are some of the best writing I have ever read. Anti-Catholic as he was, I have always liked this tribute he wrote to the Church:

    “There is not and there never was on this earth a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilisation. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphi-theatre. The proudest Royal houses are but of yesterday when compared to the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. The line we trace back in an unbroken series from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eigth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable. The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the Republic of Venice was modern compared with the Papacy; and the Republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour. The number of her children is greater than in any former age. Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated her for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendancy extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of the Missouri, and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished in Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broke arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St Paul`s.”

    As for pessimism, I rather like this view of a late Victorian I bet you are familiar with:

    “The gallows in my garden, people say,

    Is new and neat and adequately tall;
    I tie the noose on in a knowing way

    As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
    But just as all the neighbours–on the wall–
    Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”

    The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all
    I think I will not hang myself to-day.
    To-morrow is the time I get my pay–

    My uncle’s sword is hanging in the hall–
    I see a little cloud all pink and grey–

    Perhaps the rector’s mother will not call– I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
    That mushrooms could be cooked another way–

    I never read the works of Juvenal–
    I think I will not hang myself to-day.
    The world will have another washing-day;

    The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
    And H.G. Wells has found that children play,

    And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
    Rationalists are growing rational–
    And through thick woods one finds a stream astray

    So secret that the very sky seems small–
    I think I will not hang myself to-day.

    Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
    The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;

    Even to-day your royal head may fall,
    I think I will not hang myself to-day.”

  • Don, skimming that assessment of Hardy; first impressions are that it is misleading and skewed in its analysis. I just finished The Woodlanders. Townsend quotes Grace Melbury, the main female character as saying she felt “bitter with all that had befallen her—with the cruelties that had attacked her—with life—with Heaven.” Yes, a bitter moment. But he omits the constant prayer visits by her and Marty South, who loved Giles more than anyone, and Marty’s solitary visit at the end which bespeaks of spiritual faith.

    The Mayor of Casterbridge is one of the greatest novels ever written. More later.

  • If I weren’t a Catholic I would convert to Catholicism…I suppose I could try to separate out what parts of me are particularly Catholic and which parts I might still have if Catholicism were absent but, my goodness, I am 10 times the person I was before I became a “re-vert” to actually living the faith after a long time of slackness. I’m still 1,000 times less the Christian I could be (naturally), but I can’t even stand the thought of myself when I wasn’t going to Mass every week, wasn’t saying daily prayers, wasn’t even trying to follow my Lord.

  • Little about being “a” Catholic ever sunk in, growing up, and I dropped out not long after Confirmation because of a plague of suicidal tendencies that afflicted me daily for about 25 years. I think I recall trying to live a moral Christian-ish life on my own strength? Something like that. Never hurt anybody else, etc. Not help them much, either. I remember vaguely thinking abortion was the woman’s choice, the pre-born didn’t count as individuals, but politically at least I never voted on that satanic joke of a platform. It didn’t mean enough to make a dent in an otherwise rock-ribbed conservative view. I suspect topics like gay marriage and birth control would fall under that I-just-don’t-give-a-damn heading, if I was still wandering in the desert.
    If you’ve never strayed, it’s pretty hard to picture, and if you have strayed and returned, it’s pretty hard to remember. Post-re-verting, all I can say is that I’m recognizable on the outside, but the interior life is completely different. Seriously, 100% different. As others have said, to imagine not being Catholic is to imagine not being YOU.

  • More seriously, if I weren’t Catholic I almost certainly would not have five children.

    Politically, I would lean much more to the right on economic matters, have no problem at all with waterboarding or other forms of torture, would be mildly restrictionist on abortion, and would probably favor widespread contraception programs pushed by the government. Overall, politics would serve as a religion substitute, with all that entails.

Roundup of Catholic Blogosphere Reaction to Pope’s Condom Comments

Monday, November 22, AD 2010

The Pope’s comments in an unauthorized excerpt release from Peter Seewald’s latest book, “Light of the World, The Pope, The Church and The Signs of the Times”, has caused quite a stir.

Basically he said, as an extreme example, if a male prostitute was to use a condom during sex, it was a step towards a better morality.

Pope Benedict wasn’t speaking ex-cathedra.

Nonetheless, the secular media, like clockwork, has declared that condoms are now allowed by all fornicators (not like dissident Catholics were following the teachings of the Church anyways).

So here is a short roundup of the better informed among us:

Pope Approves Restricted Use of Condoms? – M.J. Andrew, TAC

Understanding Pope’s Dilemma on Condoms – Jimmy Akin, NCRgstr

Condoms, Consistency, (mis)Communication – Thomas Peters, AmP

Pope Changed Church Condoms Teaching? – Q. de la Bedoyere, CH

A Vatican Condom Conversion? – Mollie, Get Religion

Pope: Condoms, Sex Abuse, Resignation & Movie Nights – John Allen

What The Pope Really Said About Condoms in New Book? – Janet Smith

Ginger Factor: Pope Approves of Condoms! – Jeff Miller, The Crt Jstr

The Pope and Condoms – Steve Kellmeyer, The Fifth Column

Condoms May Be ‘First Step’ In Moralization of Sexuality – Cth Herald

Pope Did Not Endorse the Use of Condoms – Fr. Zuhlsdorf, WDTPRS?

Did Pope Change Teaching About Condoms? – Brett Salkeld, Vox Nova

(Hat tips:  The Pulpit & Henry Karlson)

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15 Responses to Roundup of Catholic Blogosphere Reaction to Pope’s Condom Comments

Proxy Morality: Advocacy and 'Solidarity'

Thursday, August 26, AD 2010

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post on how we sometimes impute excessive virtue to ourselves for being on the right side of historical conflicts, though a sort of proxy morality. I’d like to follow-up on the theme with the other area in which I think we often fall into a mentality of proxy morality: issue advocacy and solidarity with oppressed groups.

Let me start by trying to lay out a little bit more clearly what I think proxy morality is and why I think it is a danger to us. Proxy morality consists of drawing a strong sense of virtue or righteousness from identification with some cause or group. It is, I think, a dangerous tendency because it allows us to indulge in a great deal of pride and righteousness, while at the same time running of the risk of both excusing ourselves from taking any direct moral action in regards to the issues which we congratulate ourselves on due to proxy morality.

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9 Responses to Proxy Morality: Advocacy and 'Solidarity'

  • Bravo! I have always held political advocacy of the pro-life cause to be highly important. However, I have also thought such advocacy was never enough which is why I served as a Birthright Volunteer at the U of I and am in my tenth year as Chairman of the Board of the local Crisis Pregnancy Center. Political involvement is never a substitute for personal help to those needing our, not someone else’s, assistance. All of this is something not to take pride in however. Most of us could do so much more. Helping others is merely to meet our minimal demands as followers of Christ. In regard to abortion this is especially true. “I do not believe it should be legal to kill unborn children in the womb.” This should be akin to saying, “I do not believe that cannibalism is a proper food choice.” In our decadent times we celebrate aspects of morality that even hardened sinners in earlier periods of the Christian era would have been aghast at trespassing.

  • I am in solidarity with the sentiments of this post. ;-).

  • Good post, and one I shall need to think about. I would only add that while simply supporting cause x is nothing, actually praying for that cause is an action that goes beyond “proxy morality” (as you are sacrificing time on their behalf). I imagine prayer allows Christians to be more involved in many issues more than just proxy solidarity.

  • I’ll just add that sometimes there appears (to me) to be a tension between the type of mentality best suited for advancing social change and a mentality focused on the development of individual virtue. For instance, Martin Luther King Jr. was a tremendously successful advocate for his cause; but his personal life was far from exemplary, and many of his tactics (e.g. successfully targeting and goading extremists like Bull Connor into acting violently towards school children) are open to criticism.

    In a media-driven culture that focuses on the sensational, a measured, nuanced, and fair critique often attracts little attention, while a ridiculous simplification can often advance (or set back) a cause a great deal. It seems to me in many cases that there is a tension between being a good person and getting things done; and that (in addition to cynicism and discouragement) is the perennial temptation for those who are committed to larger causes. “The children of this world are wiser…” and all that. Proxy morality can occasionally be effective, and still be the enemy of virtue.

  • I know what you mean. I volunteered at a food bank this summer, and was surrounded by nothing but “progressive Democrats.” Come on, righties! Get out there and DO stuff!

  • Dobie,

    How old are you, now?

    I used to watch you on TV when I was a kid, in the 1950’s?

    I am gratified they’re taking time out from assisting at abortion clinics to feed people that got past the abortion factories.

  • Excellent post. At the same time, I wouldn’t hold it against people for doing nothing more than stating their positions. We have other responsibilities and limited resources.

  • Good post.

    casting a ballot or publicly agreeing with a political stance is something that typically costs us very little at a personal level

    That is true for me and for many others, but we should remember the enormous pressures which some are under. Think about the blacks who voted for McCain. That vote took a lot of guts and they were punished “at a personal level.”

  • Pingback: Round Up – August 31, 2010 « Restrained Radical

Proxy Morality: Taking Sides in History

Tuesday, August 10, AD 2010

Generally speaking, I think we would say that moral behavior consists of choosing to do right in one’s actions. However, there are a number of instances in which we tend to think of ourselves as behaving virtuously despite not having actually undertaken any action. These are means by which we tell ourselves that we have demonstrated we are “good people” without the burden of actually doing good things.

There are several different ways we do this which I’d like to address under the description of “proxy morality”, by which I mean instances in which someone assigns virtue to himself through no more action than identifying himself with some good which is performed by someone else. The first of these, one which I think people of all ideological persuasions fall into at times, is that of taking sides in history.

It is by now an old saw that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and I think there is a good deal of truth in this. Further, it can be of some moral benefit for us to look to history for people and actions to admire. The moment in which we find ourselves suddenly faced with some difficult moral decision is typically not the moment at which are most un-biased or deliberative, and so having clear examples to follow, if they are well chosen, can be a significant benefit.

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3 Responses to Proxy Morality: Taking Sides in History

Proposition 8 Struck Down, For The Time Being

Wednesday, August 4, AD 2010

By now I’m sure you all know that Proposition 8 was struck down by a federal judge. Who knows what will happen on appeal. There is much to be said, but I want to focus on one narrow and possibly tangential point. This phrase from the judge’s ruling, a phrase being reposted on facebook in many statuses:

“A private moral view that Same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples is not a proper basis for legislation.”

The absurdity of that sentence really struck me. There was nothing “private” about the view of the “superiority” of hetereosexual couples. It has been carried on through generations of communities and in the present day was represented by 52% of Californians. How a popular decision that represented thousands of years of ethical thinking and concern for the family became a private morality is baffling.

More troubling is the implication of the judge that a “moral view” is not a proper basis for legislation. Since when has this been the case? Our laws on pedophilia, minimum wage, health care, torture, human rights, etc. are based at least on part on “moral views,” views that in some respects may be just as if not more private than the ones the judge rejects today.

If morality is not a basis for legislation, what on earth is? Morality guides us in making decisions; without a moral or ethical compass (or perhaps even without a religious one) there is no basis for legislation to be made. Laws are supposed to help make society run better, but there is no way to make society run better unless you have a notion of what a “better society” looks like, and you don’t get to that notion without morality.

State recognition of homosexual marriage is one thing, but this ruling attacks the foundation of our government. Morality must have a place in the public sphere and must be one of the foremost foundations of legislation.

To be sure, the judge is simply smoke-screening for the fact that he is imposing his own standards of morality. But the fact that his statement rejecting a moral basis for legislation is being so celebrated should worry all Americans.

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6 Responses to Proposition 8 Struck Down, For The Time Being

  • I heard several commentators on the radio using this language today. We need to put a stop to this “inferior” vs. “superior” language altogether. It is irrelevant to the question at hand and just pulls on the emotional strings of those on the fence who are concerned about “equality.”

    Gay marriages are not some form of marriage which we think is an “inferior form” to the “superior form” between heterosexuals. Gay marriage quite simply isn’t a “form” of marriage at all. It doesn’t exist. To let the pro-gay-marriage crowd frame it in these emotional, egalatarian-based terms is to get off track and play into their hands.

  • From the ruling:

    “Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage….. Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage…”

    This passage from the ruling is the real core of this debate. Gender historically had and currently has nothing to do with the core of marriage? What an astonishingly bold and bald lie. That’s the level of unreality we are up against.

  • This is stupidity on afterburner. I’m actually ashamed of our judicial system; these judges are a joke. Between this and the “sweet mystery of life” passage, the rule of law is effectively dead. Pack up and go home.

    I suggest as a form of mass civil disobedience that all Christians commit a petty crime and use this decision and Casey as a defense. “The heart of liberty is to define one’s own concept of existence, and morality is no basis for legislation.” Our robed masters said so.

    There is no such thing as law free from morality; there is no metaphysically neutral politics. I have no sense for what greater good this progressive-liberal culture is aiming; what is its summum bonum? At least with Christianity, one knows where one stands. But where will this nonsense end? What moral outrage will we be forced to accept next year and the year after that?

    Not that I would do it, but I’m sort of starting to see why people burn American flags. I’m disgusted by this.

  • Really good article and pertinent to the points made here. I met the author, Thomas Messner, in my travels a few weeks ago, really smart with a law degree. Forgive me if it has already been discussed/posted here.

  • Given that the Dems control the Senate, is there any point to pushing for a removal from office of this judge? At this time the push would lose. Would that losing effort help or hurt the larger cultural war?

  • Depends on how strong a push you could mount. If anything, it should make those Senators up for re-election nervous to see the natives restless.

    The best push would be to push some of those Senators out (although I heard this guy was a Republican appointee).